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The best excuses for missing work

Matthew Broderick stars in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (Paramount Pictures)

Matthew Broderick stars in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (Paramount Pictures)

Editor’s Note (23 October, 2014): The top of this story has been updated to reflect a recent CareerBuilder study about the most common excuses offered for missing work.

In true Hollywood movie style, Ferris Bueller went to great lengths to schedule his own day off. But do you have the guile and skills to take a duvet day without getting caught?

Pulling a sickie, taking a mental health day or just finagling a day away from your desk has become quite an art form for some ingenious employees. Case in point: the manager who told jobs website CareerBuilder an employee called in sick because they “caught their uniform on fire by putting it in the microwave to dry”.

In the last year, 28% of employees in the US have called in sick to work, even though they were perfectly healthy, according to a survey commissioned by CareerBuilder. The survey, released 23 October, polled more than 3,000 workers and more than 2,200 hiring managers and HR professionals. The reasons varied: 30% said they just didn’t feel like going to work, 29% wanted a day to relax and 19% wanted to catch up on sleep.

But, what was most telling was the over-the-top excuses employees gave for calling in sick. Among them, according to CareerBuilder, were employee who said they “woke up in a good mood and didn’t want to ruin it” and one who reportedly “had a lucky night and didn’t know where he was”.

Earlier this year, we went to question and answer site Quora to find some of the best excuses for taking a day off. Don’t get any ideas — your boss might be reading this, too. Oh, and according to the CareerBuilder study, some 31% of employers have followed up to see if an employee was telling the truth and 18% of respondents said they’ve fired an employee for pulling a sickie.

Nevertheless, here are some of the very best excuses for a sick day, from Quora readers.

Moniker mix-up

Caroline Zelonka cleverly manoeuvred her way out of an all-day departmental ‘symposium’ that started at 8am on a Saturday. 

“Naturally, I did not want to go, but attendance was mandatory. Come Saturday morning, I REALLY didn't want to go because I had stayed out very late on Friday drinking and carousing,” she wrote. “Then I thought of it: the magical excuse. There are two similarly-named hotels in downtown San Francisco: the Sir Francis Drake and the St Francis. And my boss, who wasn't exactly detail-oriented, had mixed them up a few times when talking about the event. “

Zelonka hatched her plan. “I went back to sleep and then on Monday, I claimed (very earnestly) I had shown up at the St Francis, asked around, and no one there had heard of any room or area reserved for my company. They totally bought it!”

Get squeamish

Clever Jennifer Miller has a few more tricks up her sleeve. She wrote “I always say food poisoning. It’s something that’s typically gone in 24 hours and doesn't warrant you getting a doctor’s note. For male bosses just mention ‘ovary’ or ‘uterus’ and you are pretty much given a pass.”

Robby Ballard suggested the best excuse for a planned absence, say, one you know you want to take a week or two ahead but can’t get approval for a day off,  “is by claiming a colonoscopy” appointment.

Mother Nature’s manifest

Julie Hume opted for a more exotic tale of woe and wrote that her favourite all-time excuse was “..the typhoon broke all the windows and I need to get them repaired.”

Don’t dishonour the non-dead

An anonymous contributor added: “feigning a death in the family is probably a bad idea.” You “can only use it so many times before you run out of 'family members’. It is a lot easier to pretend to be sick than to pretend to be saddened by a death in the family,” the contributor wrote. What’s more, “obituaries are almost always posted online now. If your boss does his research he can easily catch on.”

Honest excuse

Some Quora readers advocate honesty as the best policy. Marie Stein suggested people “skip the excuses”. She wrote: “If you feel the need to lie about it, just don't.  Just say you need a day or took a day for personal reasons. (Even if it's for an interview or a mental health day).”

“Let someone know, as soon as you know you will be a no-show. ‘Something came up, it's personal, I'm sorry, I can't really talk about it. I should be back tomorrow.’,” she suggested.  “And express your apologies… to the person or persons who are most inconvenienced by your failure to show.”  

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Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.