February 25, 2020

The Sick Day Excuse You Shouldn't Use

“Whenever I have to stay home sick from work, I’m always uncertain about how much detail to give. Do I let my boss know that I have the stomach flu, specifically? Or would she prefer the simple elegance of “feeling under the weather?”

I mentioned this conundrum at a recent dinner with three friends, all of whom are managers. For the most part, they agreed they would not want to know the particulars of an employee’s reasons for missing work. They trust the people they manage and are troubled by the idea that workers would feel pressured to disclose the minutiae of their bodily ailments. The exception, they said, is when an employee has a chronic illness or condition, in which case it’s helpful to have a bit of context for regular absences.

That said, none of them objected to the idea of employees sharing that they had a cold or a monster migraine. There was just one excuse that they agreed employees should almost never use: Food poisoning.

Food poisoning, in their experience, is an excuse that is wildly overused, suggesting an ominous world in which the average diner must be under near-constant attack from armies of raw chicken and bombardments of unwashed lettuce leaves. It’s a perennial favorite on message boards where workers swap tips about what to tell their bosses to take advantage of sunny days or otherwise skip out on the office, and CNBC has even gone so far as to recommend it as an apropos summertime excuse: “There are a lot of festivals, picnics, work events, county fairs, state fairs and other events where people eat all kinds of crazy things, so your chances of getting food poisoning probably go up in the summer,” it noted in a piece from 2012.”

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