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Can faking an illness get you fired?

A man watches TV while home sick. Stock photo by Getty Images

Surveys tend to show a high percentage of Canadians fake sick from work, sometimes for pretty frivolous reasons. But what happens if your boss checks up on you and catches you in a lie? The consequences can be more serious than you might expect.

A recent example comes from Alberta where a Court of Appeal decision upheld the firing of a Telus worker, who had called in too sick to work but not too sick to play softball.

In 2011, Telus technician Jarrod Underwood requested a day off to play in a slo-pitch tournament, but was turned down because there were too many appointments and not enough other workers to cover for him that day.

On the morning of the tournament, Underwood contacted his boss that he couldn’t work “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Understandably suspicious, his boss took a trip to the tournament and spotted Underwood pitching. When confronted, Underwood claimed he was sick and first denied playing, then said he could manage his symptoms on the field but not in a client’s home. Telus promptly terminated him.

An arbitrator said the firing was unreasonable, but Alberta’s Court of Appeal overturned that decision. Among the factors influencing the decision was an “irreparably damaged” trust relationship between employer and employee.

Faking sick could lead to a termination with cause, since lying to your employer could be interpreted as breach of contract. Failing to work your mandated days is another violation of our employment agreement. Then, you’re likely ineligible for EI benefits since your unemployment is technically your fault.

Considering some of the ridiculous excuses that some workers provide for taking a sick day, it’s likely that they’re not thinking of the consequences. But as more employers demand a doctor’s note and become more adept at social-media monitoring, malingering workers should beware.

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