While the cold and flu season serves as a primary culprit in workplace absences, the economy may be a factor as well this year.

CareerBuilder’s annual survey on absenteeism shows nearly one-third (32 per cent) of workers have played hooky from the office this year, calling in sick when they were well at least once.

Twenty-eight per cent of employers think more employees are absent with fake excuses due to increased stress and burnout caused by the recession. The nationwide survey included more than 4,700 workers and 3,100 employers.

While the majority of employers said they typically don’t question the reason for an absence, 29 per cent reported they have checked up on an employee who called in sick and 15 per cent said they have fired a worker for missing work without a legitimate excuse.

Of the 29 per cent of employers who checked up on an employee, 70 per cent said they required the employee to show them a doctor’s note.

Fifty-two per cent called the employee at home, 18 per cent had another worker call the employee and 17 per cent drove by the employee’s house or apartment.

“Longer hours and heavier workloads are common in the current economic climate and employers are becoming more flexible with their time off policies,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

“Sixty-three per cent of companies we surveyed said they let their team members use sick days for mental health days. If you need time to recharge, your best bet is to be honest with your manager.”

More than one-in-ten workers (12 per cent) who played hooky admitted to calling in sick because of something work-related, such as to miss a meeting, give themselves some more time to work on a project or avoid the wrath of a boss, colleague or client.

Others missed work because they needed to go to a doctor’s appointment (31 per cent), needed to relax (28 per cent), catch up on sleep (16 per cent), run personal errands (13 per cent), catch up on housework (10 per cent) or spend time with family and friends (10 per cent).

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