NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A full third of employers say they notice an increased number of sick days among their employees around the holidays with 19% noting that December is the time of year that employees call in sick the most followed by 16% in January and 15% in February, according to an annual report.

"With all of the holiday travel and gatherings, it's likely that some of those calls are for legitimate illness as people get run down and exposed to lots of germ while running around getting ready for and participating in yuletide events," said Joyce Maroney, director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc.

CareerBuilder's annual study found that apart from actual illness, about 33% said they took a sick day, because they didn't feel like going to work, 28% because they needed to relax, 24% cited going to a scheduled doctor's appointment and 19% said catching up on sleep.

"Employees call in sick more often in December due to financial stress," said Travis Freeman, a financial advisor with Four Seasons Wealth Management in St. Louis. "During the holiday season, we're not just thinking about gifts, we're thinking about holiday dinners, travel expenses, property taxes, income taxes, etc. Combine this with lower holiday bonuses due to the slow economy and you can see why financial stress picks up year-end."

About 90% of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick compared to 80% last year, according to Staples 4th Annual Flu Season survey.

"Flu season poses a big problem for businesses," said Lisa Hamblet, vice president for facility solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples. "Each year it causes an estimated 70 million missed workdays and billions in lost office productivity. It's critical that both employees and employers take notice and promote healthier habits."

The Staples study also revealed that 45% returned to work early, because they did not want to fall behind on their workload even though productivity dropped to under 60% of the norm when ill.

"Diligence early in the flu season ensures health and productivity throughout the season with simple products like hand sanitizer to large-scale industrial cleaning products and techniques," Hamblet said.

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According to the Workforce Institute, 53% hourly employees are not paid when they are out sick.

On the flip side, 30% of employees say they've gone to work despite actually being sick in order to save their sick days for when they're feeling well. Meanwhile, social media has given employers another channel to check up on workers playing hooky.

Of those who verified employees' excuses over the past year, 64% required a doctor's note, 48% called the employee, 19% checked the employee's social media posts, 17% had another employee call the sick employee and 15% drove past the employee's house, according to CareerBuilder.

"Workforce management technologies like absence management and automated scheduling can provide managers with the means to respond quickly to unplanned absences and to monitor chronic abusers of time off policies," Maroney told MainStreet.

Thanks to technological advances, taking a sick day no longer necessarily means taking a day off. About 20% of workers say in the past year they called in sick but still ended up doing work from home throughout the day.

"Technology that enables employees to work remotely also means that they don't have to be completely out of touch when they are home sick," said Maroney. "If they're feeling up to it, employees can check email and respond to emergencies if they are armed with mobile devices."

When asked to share the most memorable excuses for workplace absences that they've heard, employers reported to CareerBuilder the following real-life examples:

  • Employee's false teeth flew out the window while driving down the highway
  • Employee's favorite football team lost on Sunday so needed Monday to recover
  • Employee was quitting smoking and was grouchy
  • Employee said that someone glued her doors and windows shut so she couldn't leave the house to come to work
  • Employee bit her tongue and couldn't talk
  • Employee claimed a swarm of bees surrounded his vehicle and he couldn't make it in
  • Employee said the chemical in turkey made him fall asleep and he missed his shift
  • Employee felt like he was so angry he was going to hurt someone if he came in
  • Employee received a threatening phone call from the electric company and needed to report it to the FBI
  • Employee needed to finish Christmas shopping
  • Employee's fake eye was falling out of its socket
  • Employee got lost and ended up in another state
  • Employee couldn't decide what to wear

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet