Sick day madness: The worst absentee days at work

Is it the day after St. Patrick's Day? Jan. 2? Monday after the Super Bowl? Which ones are the worst? And what do employers do about it?

Finding it hard to concentrate at work? Gravitating toward the Internet every five minutes? Planning to call in sick?

Events like March Madness will do that to you.

An annual study touted as being "hated by working basketball fans everywhere" by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that March Madness will cost American companies at least $134 million in lost wages over the first two days of the college basketball tournament.

"Since it takes place during the day, you will find people turning their computers to the side and start streaming the video," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "People will take three-hour lunches to go to a sports bar and spend a lot of time researching teams and plan viewing parties."

All of which results in a significant drop in productivity as well as Internet speeds at work, the study found.

A survey released by MSN and Impulse Research found that 7 percent of survey respondents said they take time off from work to watch the tournament, while 12 percent of those polled admitted to calling in sick in the past so they could watch the game.

Worst absentee days at work: Bostonians celebrate St. Patrick's Day at the Boston Beer Works on March 17, 2013. IMAGEAP Images: Aynsley Floyd, Invision for Gillette, file

"And it's not just March Madness or the day after the Super Bowl or St. Patrick's Day or Jan. 2," said John Hausknecht, an associate professor in the Department of Human Resource Studies at Cornell University. "Studies have shown a big spike in absenteeism from work not only for these events but also Mondays and Fridays after a major event or holiday."

Although the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track absenteeism at work on specific days, studies such as the one by Challenger and academic research paint a pretty good picture of how employers nationwide scramble to prepare for massive blows to productivity during certain times of the year.

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"One of the things I've seen a lot of employers do regarding days like Monday after St. Patrick's Day is to be pre-emptive — reminding employees that missing work after a holiday (particularly one known for inebriation) is not acceptable," said Benjamin Y. Clark, an assistant professor of public budgeting, finance and administration at Cleveland State University. "Some will not allow sick days those days without a doctor's note. This gives the message that a hangover is not an illness, it is a choice, and we are not going to pay you for it."

An article by Challenger says that although there isn't a significant drain in productivity leading up to the Super Bowl, football fans find the post-game Monday difficult to handle.

Worst absentee days at work: San Francisco 49ers fans Alan, right, and Markus Merlino react as their team scores in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. IMAGEAP Photo: Noah Berger, File

In fact, zealous football fans create campaigns and petitions every year  like this one by 4of4 Fantasy Football, which petitioned the Obama administration last year  to declare the Monday following the Super Bowl a national holiday.

Separate surveys conducted by Glassdoor and Kronos Inc. show that Americans are more likely to call in sick on the Monday after the Super Bowl than any other day.

"Some places are big football towns, so issues of the Super Bowl might be a really big issue," said Clark. "Knowing your employees and the culture within your organization is going to guide the type of policies or pre-emptive action that you'll take."

An organization in New Orleans will have to deal with the Mardi Gras issue in a different way than, say, Cleveland would, Clark said, because "the culture of NOLA is different than Cleveland, so you will have to deal with that issue differently."

Other days when Americans tend to call in sick include Cyber Monday and days following popular video game or big-name movie releases, Challenger said.

Hausknecht said that absenteeism after major events has always been a problem, but it's only recently that the advancement of technology has helped companies to track it better.

Worst absentee days at work: Crowd on Rue Bourbon, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Louisiana. IMAGEPhotolibrary

"In some companies they don't care about absenteeism, they care that the work gets done," he said. "Where it's critical is where work does need to get done every day  like retail, health care, FedEx and UPS  and employees don't show up."

Hausknecht said companies can work around the problem by discouraging people from taking days off after major events or holidays, creating different shifts or overstaffing.

"Employers can crack down if they see patterns of excessive absenteeism," said Francis Cook, a labor and employment attorney at Fox Rothschild. "The key to addressing absenteeism is to state what the company's expectations are."

If you are a florist or retailer and your busiest day of the year is the day after major holidays, enforce a policy that says employees can't take those days off, Cook said.

"However, if an employee calls in sick, let's say the day after St. Patrick's Day, an employer can't take immediate action," Cook said. "But if the employer spots him at a St. Patrick's Day Parade or sees him post pictures on Facebook during medical leave, then there can be serious repercussions."

In that case, Cook said, the employee can even be terminated.

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