Reporting from Chicago — If you plan to use the last of your 2011 sick days before the end of the year even if you're not really under the weather, you probably won't be alone.
Companies that track employee time off and other worker issues say sick-day use among those who aren't sick is on the rise.
From 2006 to 2010, the Workforce Institute at Kronos, a human resources policy group, found an 18% increase among workers who admitted to taking a sick day when they weren't really sick. And a 2007 survey by human resources consultant CCH found that two-thirds of U.S. employees who called in sick at the last minute actually weren't.
"That's 'fake' sick time," director Joyce Maroney said.
Fake sick time is something that many companies can't afford, especially in a struggling economy, but the reasons employees have for faking it often go beyond just playing hooky.
Using sick days to tend to the needs of children and older relatives is increasing among workers whose employers do not allow sick leave for family care, staffing professionals say.
"It's not always an illegitimate reason," said Julie Tappero, president of West Sound Workforce, a West Coast staffing service. "There are plenty of legitimate reasons why employees take sick days."
Increased concern about finances and job security may make some employees hesitate about calling in sick, but certain absences of a personal nature — like emergency care — can't always be planned.
"The reality is that we all bring to work some of our personal worries," said Jennifer Piliero, senior product manager for human resources management company Ceridian U.S.
David Ossip, president and chief executive of workforce management consultant Dayforce, said increased sick-time use is the result of economic strain on the family. Where there may have been a stay-at-home parent before, now both parents are working.
"People need a sense of work-life balance," he said. "This is an outcome of that."
CCH found in its 2007 survey that periods of calling in sick are greatest on Monday and Friday, around holidays such as Christmas and the Fourth of July and also during flu and hay fever seasons.
To offset the pattern, both Ossip and Tappero suggested that companies be more receptive by increasing flex time and introducing options for trading shifts or telecommuting.
"Normally, the rule of thumb is about 9 of 10 people are trustworthy," Ossip said.
Kronos is one of the largest global providers of workforce management software. Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, is among its clients.