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Sunday, August 12, 2007

HR Detectives

FMLA. It seems like a nice idea, right? You have a baby, or break your leg, or get pneumonia--or the same happens to your spouse, parent or child, and you get 12 weeks off work. Great. Right?

Sure, in theory and if you aren't responsible to track and verify the FMLA leave. (Which can either be granted in a large chunk or taken intermittently for various problems.) And all of us HR types know that we can trust employees 100%, right?

Except when we can't. But that's okay, because FMLA requires a doctor's approval. And we can always trust doctors, except when we can't. Or when they are fake doctors.
Sick of working? A virtual fake doctor is eager to prescribe the cure. proclaims it has the answers to getting 40 hours of pay without the work, to clocking in and out and beating the clock, and to getting a doctor's note without the hassle of getting an appointment. The Web site offers five templates for excuse notes ranging from funeral to medical evaluation to an ER visit -- all for $24.95.

Now, the people at that lovely website forgot that not all medical leave is paid leave, so oops! They are encouraging dishonesty and they didn't do their research.

Oh well. And now, a story. Once upon a time, I was in graduate school and I was teaching summer undergraduate courses. I had a student come to me the day before the midterm for a class and beg to add it. I am a huge sucker so I told her that if the university would approve it and if she passed the midterm, I would allow her to add the class. (Passing the midterm shouldn't have been a huge deal--she was a senior and the class was Political Science 100. Theoretically her upper division classes should have covered most of the material in greater depth.)

She thanked me profusely and then didn't show up to take the midterm. Eh, no skin of my nose. That course ended and the second course of the summer began. This student appeared on my class roll. Now, these were block classes, so we met twice a week and each class was three hours long. Missing one night was like missing an entire week during a regular semester.

She missed the first class and showed up at the second. I required everyone to do a project and she signed up.

I didn't see her again until the day before her scheduled presentation. She'd been in a car accident a few weeks ago and she was injured and in the hospital and could she please have some additional time. Umm, okay. Car accidents stink and she did look pretty beat up.

She disappears and I don't see her again until the day of the final. Can she please, please, please have an incomplete? She's already been accepted to graduate school and she needs one more political science class to graduate. Please? Please? Please?

I've ceased trusting her, but what can I say, I'm nice. So, I draw up a list of the requirements for making up the incomplete and have her sign it. She must write one 2 page paper for each of the topics we covered and the first will be due next Friday.

Friday comes and goes and no paper. The next Friday she comes in breathlessly and turns in the first paper with an apology and a doctor's note. She's been sick. She has, in fact, cancer and the doctor's note states this. So, so sad. Can she have more time?

"You must write all the papers or you will fail the class," I say. But, I am compassionate. She has cancer.

The paper was the absolute worst paper I have ever read, and I have read some doozies. No coherent thoughts. No coherent grammar. Bleh.

She turns in 4 or 5 papers, all of the same abysmal quality. Then she disappears again. I turn in her final grade--an F.

On the same day as grades are due, I get a fax from her doctor's office. She has cancer, remember? She's in the hospital. She's in a coma! How can I fail a cancer patient in a coma? I'm compassionate. I'm loving. I'm a good person! I feel terrible. So, I change her grade to a C.

I tell my colleague about the saga. "Can you believe it? This poor girl in my class is dying. She's in a coma! And I almost flunked her."

My colleague calmly looks at the fax and says, "Uhh, it says it's from Mount Siani Medical Center. That should be spelled S-I-N-A-I. And look at the fax information on the bottom. It was faxed from Kinko's. I think Mount Sinai medical center actually has their own fax machines and could fax it from there."

Uhh, duh. Then it hit me. You are sick, you are dying, and as you slip into a coma, you say to your doctor, "Please, just send a fax to my political science professor and tell her that I'm here. Please, the last thing I want to do before I die is get a passing grade in Women in Politics."

Before I flunked her sorry little self, I did call Mount Sinai medical center and asked to speak to the doctor listed. No such person.

Can you say big, fat, F?

Surprisingly, she never complained about the grade. Maybe she never woke up from the coma.

(hat tip Overlawyered)


Mike Doughty said...

In my career, I've fired numerous people for presenting falsified documentation attempting to justify an absence. Instead of an unexcused absence and perhaps a disciplinary letter or suspension for excessive absenteeism, they lost their job for presenting falsified documentation, or in the case of paid time off, for attempting to defraud the company. Your story is "better", I think, than any of mine, but in addition to falsified doctors' notes, I've been presented with false traffic accident reports, false crime reports, people saying that parents had died and trying to fake letters from funeral homes, etc. I had a guy years ago who came in with a cast on his leg; it turned out that it was put on by his girlfriend who worked for an orthopedist. People can be quite inventive, but starting my career in an auto plant with 5000 hourly employees was a blessing. After a few years in that job there weren't too many excuses that hadn't been tested. People who lie to me get little mercy..... it's insulting that they think I'm dumb enough to believe them. I like to think that not too many got by me.

Evil HR Lady said...

Yes, the consequences for getting caught lying about something is always worse than the consequence for doing the thing in the first place.

The Engineer said...

I think perhaps I understand better why many HR folks seem so gruff and cynical. That has got to wear on you. Not quite as bad a police officers I talk with, but depressing none the less.

Mike Doughty said...

I've got a younger brother who's a police officer. He says I'm the only person outside law enforcement who he and his cop buddies can relate to. I take that as high praise indeed.

Just another HR lady said...

Yep, I've had employees write false notes/documentation re: cancer, diabetes, broken legs, MS, drug problems, and more I probably can't think of at the moment. It's pretty devastating to the manager/HR person when this type of thing happens as we are all human too and want to be compassionate when someone is ill. To find out you're been lied to about someone having a possibly life-threatening disease is one of the worst things you can do to a person.

All it takes is a call to the Physician's College in whatever country you're in to determine that the doctor in the note/documentation does not actually exist, I'm not sure why someone would even consider doing this...goodbye job. If you're desperate for personal time off, just ask!!

Anonymous said...

Employers bend over backwards to treat each and every employee with fairness, honesty, and utmost professional respect and concern for their welfare. Given such decent treatment, it's just not right for employees to lie. Not under any circumstances. Nope.

Tim Lacy said...

On your anecdote, you must've taught at the same community college in Chicago at which I taught. I've only had one student in 4+ years of teaching courses (p-t) that tried the cancer excuse. Honestly, I think they're a completely difference population set than most HR folks are used to dealing (read: intensely prolonged adolescence). - TL

Anonymous said...

This is late.. and random.. but what kind of companies require notes like this? I'm a reporter working on a story. We want to let HR people know this stuff exists and we're trying to find a company that would let us try and pass a fake excuse through a worker, to see if it works. Any information would be appreciated.