Fired for taking fake sick leave
Chucking a sickie and taking fake sick leave has long been an Australian tradition. But you need to be careful, because if found out you could be justifiably dismissed. Perhaps after reading this article, you may be hesitant to chuck a sickie.
Below, we look at some famous cases from Australia and abroad of workers who were caught faking illness to take the day off. Not only were some of these workers fired, but one copped a $1.2 million fine and another even received a criminal sentence.
Dodgy sick leave: Australia’s time-honoured tradition
The numbers of Australians taking fake sick leave is unsurprisingly high. A 2018 study by job site Adzuna revealed that 2.3 million of the nation’s workers had taken dodgy sick leave in the preceding year. That amounted to 18.5 per cent of the working population. The study estimated that this cost the national economy $823 million in lost productivity.
Workers in public relations, advertising and marketing were found to be biggest culprits, with 23 per cent chuckie sickies. Finance professionals were close behind with a similar percentage. While hospitality workers were the least likely to engage in the practice, with only 13 per cent doing so.
The most common reasons why workers feigned illness were boredom, having a job interview, avoiding a workplace bully and going fishing or surfing. Also, taking a long weekend or having a hangover.
The study revealed that 12 per cent of individuals who took unauthorised sick leave were eventually discovered by their employers. This resulted in 37.5 per cent facing disciplinary actions such as official warnings. While 13 per cent of those caught were dismissed.
Soccer star fined AU$1.2 million for taking dodgy sick leave
One recent example of an employee lying about his reason for taking sick leave hit global headlines recently.
In January 2024, Manchester United star Marcus Rashford was caught faking illness to get out of training. And he certainly paid for it, with Manchester United fining him a whopping £650,000 (or over $1.2 million Australian). While for most of us this would be a life-crippling fine, for Rashford, it was the equivalent of just two weeks’ wages.
Rashford had told Manchester United that he could not attend training as he was feeling ill. The club then put out a statement saying that he “is not well enough to be in the squad following illness.” However, footage later emerged of the England striker partying at a club in Belfast, Ireland.
Rashford had been in the city to watch a friend play for a local team. The footage suggested that he had partied on Wednesday and Thursday night prior to his training on the Friday. A source told British media that Rashford denied missing training due to his partying. But he soon fessed up to the dodgy sick leave.
Corrections officer sentenced for fake sick leave
Sometimes it is not just a million-dollar fine or a dismissal that can result from chucking a sickie. In the case of an American prison correctional officer, the ramifications included being sentenced to five years’ probation.
29-year-old Stephanie Saber, who worked at a state prison in New York, received the sentence after she admitted to submitting false medical certificates to obtain sick leave. Fronting the Seneca County Court in November 2023, Ms Saber pleaded guilty to the first-degree charge of offering a false instrument for filing.
Ms Saber had provided her employer, the Five Points Correctional Facility in Seneca, New York, with 13 false medical notes. She had claimed that these notes had been from doctors and used them to obtain sick leave. The court said that Ms Saber’s conduct was “particularly egregious” as she would have known the impact her absence would have on the facility, which was facing “critical staffing shortages.”
The court said that she had “betrayed” not only her oath to New York state but to her fellow correctional officers. Perhaps it goes without saying that in addition to her sentence, Ms Saber was also fired by New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
AI could detect fake sick leave
Artificial intelligence is promising to save us countless hours per week by automating everyday tasks. But on the flip side, it may also soon make calling in for a sickie all the more challenging.
A study by the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology in India has revealed that AI technology can now discern whether a person is sick or not simply by analysing the tone of their voice. The study analysed the voice recordings of around 630 people, including 111 who were suffering from the common cold. The study aimed to find out how the “cold voice” differs from a healthy voice.
The methodology employed in this research hinged on the analysis of harmonics, which are vocal rhythms present in human speech. Individuals afflicted with a cold exhibit irregular patterns in their vocal frequencies, which AI algorithms can pick up on. During the study, AI could detect that the individual had a cold with 70 per cent accuracy.
While the technology may not be at the stage where it can be reliably used to detect workers taking fake sick leave, it may soon be.
Worker dismissed for seeing Wiggles on sick leave
Turning to Australia, the unfair dismissal case Sean Mamo v Robjan Pty Ltd t/a Yarrawonga Toyota  involved an employee who got busted for taking fake sick leave.
Sean Mamo had worked as a car detailer at a Yarrawonga Toyota in country Victoria since November 2018. On 28 June 2019, he called the dealership’s general manager to inform him that he would be taking annual leave to care for his sick son. But rather than caring for his ill son, Mr Mamo in fact took him to a Wiggles concert. The general manager had found out about the deception when a colleague showed him a photo of Mr Mamo at the concert.
Employee is fired for misconduct
A few days later, Mr Mamo had a meeting with the general manager and the owner of the dealership. They told him that it was their belief that he had falsely taken personal leave the previous Friday. Mr Mamo denied that was the case, but he was then showed the photo of him at the Wiggles concert.
It was then that Mr Mamo finally revealed that he had attended the concert. He tried to defend his actions, saying that he took annual leave as he did not think he would be granted leave to attend a Wiggles concert. Mr Mamo did not apologise for his actions.
The dealership owner felt that the company had lost trust in Mr Mamo, and considering his past performance, the decision was made to fire him immediately. Mr Mamo subsequently made an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission.
Fair Work Commission hands down decision
In his unfair dismissal claim, Mr Mamo contended that his actions were “not serious enough” to warrant a summary dismissal. He also rejected his employer’s claim that he had performed poorly in the past. However, the Fair Work Commission did not see it this way.
It found that Yarrawonga Toyota was “justified” in sacking Mr Mamo, stating that his “deception” was sufficient reason to do so. And that the company did not even need to factor his poor performance into the equation to justify the termination.
Fair Work Commission explains why fake sickies justify dismissal
The Fair Work Commission stated that firing an employee who falsely claimed personal leave “scarcely requires an explanation.” It said that doing so is “dishonest” and therefore a “breach of the employee’s duty of good faith.” Also, it allows the employee to “obtain financial advantage by deception” by being paid based on a false assertion. Additionally, the act “asserts a legitimate right” to be away from work when none actually exists.
Ultimately, the Fair Work Commission ruled that Mr Mamo’s actions were a “clear case of misconduct giving rise to a valid reason for dismissal.” His unfair dismissal claim was therefore rejected. “[Mr Mamo] deliberately misled the company about his reason for not coming to work and thereby claimed a payment to which he was not entitled,” the Fair Work Commission said.
Worker calls in sick to attend interstate footy game
Another local example of a worker who chucked a sickie was detailed in the unlawful termination case Anderson v Crown Melbourne Ltd . Nathan Anderson, who worked at Melbourne’s Crown casino, was described in court records as a “football fanatic.” He wanted to attend the match between West Coast and Essendon on 1 September 2007, taking place in Perth.
This was a critical match, as Essendon still had a mathematical chance of making the finals. And it was to possibly be the last game for Essendon’s coach Kevin Sheedy. The problem was, however, that he was rostered to work on that day. So on 24 August 2007, Mr Anderson arranged a doctor’s appointment to obtain a medical certificate. And he was promptly given a certificate for 1 September 2007.
“I’ll have a doctor’s certificate covering me”
Around the date that he received the medical certificate, Mr Anderson told a number of his coworkers and even managers that he would be attending the match. A manager told him that Crown would regard misusing sick leave very seriously. But to this, Mr Anderson simply stated “I’ll have a doctor’s certificate covering me for that day.”
The manager replied that he felt Mr Anderson would not be legitimately using sick leave and that it could lead to his dismissal. In turn the manager said that he had other options, like swapping his shift. The manager told him: “Nathan, you’ll really be in trouble if you don’t come in. It is very serious and I suggest you work on that day.” Despite these warnings, Mr Anderson took the day off on 1 September and went to Perth to watch the match.
Worker said Crown should not judge his feelings about Essendon coach
After taking a red-eye flight back to Melbourne, Mr Anderson was back at work the next day. But he was soon called into a meeting with management where he was asked about misusing his sick leave. Mr Anderson replied by saying that Crown did not have the right to question his medical certificate.
He also said that he was very passionate about Kevin Sheedy and Essendon player James Hird, who also retired after the match in Perth. Mr Anderson said that it was not for Crown to judge how he was feeling about the duo’s retirement.
Coach’s retirement made worker emotionally unfit to work
Mr Anderson was thereafter suspended without pay. He was subsequently invited to a meeting where he could give his side of the story. Mr Anderson explained that Kevin Sheedy was a role model for him and therefore it was critical to be there at his final match. Given the gravity of his impending retirement, Mr Anderson argued that he was not emotionally fit to work on 1 September.
Worker is dismissed
He was then asked why he did not simply apply for annual leave. Mr Anderson said that he did not because there was no point. He then did not respond to a question about why he had not applied for a temporary employment arrangement. Towards the end of the meeting, Mr Anderson said that he had enjoyed the match and had visited the casino in Perth. He was then fired by Crown and provided one weeks’ pay in lieu of notice.
Court rules on unlawful termination case
Mr Anderson subsequently initiated legal proceedings against Crown Melbourne. He argued that his dismissal breached the Workplace Relations Act 1996. Namely, because he was fired for a temporary absence from work due to illness or injury.
However, the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia did not see it this way. The court found that Mr Anderson had already paid for his airfare and match tickets before seeing the doctor. Also, that he was clearly in fine health leading up to his contentious day off on 1 September.
In addition, the court found that when he went to see the doctor, Mr Anderson had told him that he wanted a medical certificate specifically so he could attend the game. Given these findings, the court ruled that Crown Melbourne did not fire him due to an absence from work because of illness or injury. And that it had the right to dismiss him for misusing his sick leave.
Conclusion to: Dismissed for taking dodgy sick leave
Call A Whole New Approach today. We can help you take action via the Fair Work Commission if you have faced unfair dismissal, adverse action or any other violation of workplace rights. Make sure you act fast, as you have only 21 days from your termination date to file a claim with the Fair Work Commission.
For a confidential consultation on how we can assist you, contact us at 1800 333 666.