Playing hooky for a day could get you fired, depending on your company's policy. As in all work situations, honesty really is the best policy. Otherwise, you could jeopardize your professional reputation and your employment status by lying to your employer. Protections from being fired during sick time are relatively narrow and taking a day off when you're not sick probably isn't protected by law, especially if your company has a sick leave policy with strict guidelines.
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for employees with a serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Employees who are eligible for FMLA leave can take intermittent time off -- a day here, a day there -- provided the employer is aware that the employee is qualified to take FMLA leave. Regardless of whether the employee takes six weeks off or one day off work, her job is protected and she can't be fired for taking off time under FMLA.
It's not uncommon for employees to abuse FMLA leave, particularly intermittent leave which, according to labor lawyer Cynthia Doll, a partner with the law firm Fisher & Phillips, can cause "administrative headaches" for employers. Employees who provide initial certification from their physician about the need for intermittent leave generally don't provide additional certification for every instance they're away from work. Doll's example focuses on employees with migraines. In some cases, migraines are so debilitating that sufferers go to the doctor or an emergency room, and are, therefore, able to obtain additional certification that they took off one day to cope with recurring migraines.
Some employees with chronic conditions don't go to the doctor or the hospital when they call in sick for one day. It's times like these where an employer might be suspicious and ask for additional certification that supports the employee's continued eligibility for time off under FMLA. A designated human resources staff member has the right to request additional documentation for intermittent leave, even if it's just for one day to recertify eligibility for FMLA leave. If the employee isn't able to provide it, she could receive disciplinary action or be terminated for abuse of workplace policies.
Sick Leave Policies
FMLA isn't a sick leave policy, and employers who offer sick leave aren't bound by any employment laws that dictate how they should administer their policies, except that the policies must be fair and equitable for all employees. For example, an employer can't allow men to accrue more sick leave than women, which obviously would be a unfair employment practice. Employers administer their sick leave policies the way they see fit, and the policies are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee. Some employers' policies require that sick leave must be used for times when employees actually are sick and unable to work. If you take a sick day and happen to bump into your boss during the noon hour as you emerge from a department store, shopping bags galore, you could be fired for dishonest behavior.
Paid Time Off
To avoid situations where employers must judge whether an employee actually is sick and to relieve employees of feeling guilty about taking a day off, some companies create paid-time-off policies, or PTO. They combine vacation days with sick days, which employees can use and not have to justify whether they stayed at home sick, went to the doctor or simply wanted a day off from work. If your company has a PTO policy and you take a day off, claiming to be sick and you're not, Murphy's Law probably will cause you to run into someone you know from work. Instead of claiming an illness, simply say that you are taking a PTO day and prevent you and your employer from potentially embarrassing or unfortunate circumstances.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.