Investigating Employee Malingering

104696244-GettyImages-464611796.1910x1000Over the past weekend, many Americans participated in St. Patrick’s Day festivities in their community. With the 17th of March falling on a Sunday this year, many service industry establishments held events and promotions all weekend, which for many employed individuals meant three days of imbibing and socializing. After all of the excitement and green beer, it’s no wonder that March 18th is one of the most common days for employees to call off in the entire calendar. Consequently, there is a spike in employees who are suddenly experiencing “flu-like” symptoms, including sweating, headaches, and stomach upset—employees who are calling in sick who could very well just be hung over. This is what employee malingering looks like, and it can have disastrous impact on businesses and corporations throughout the country.

Employee malingering can be a difficult subject, as it usually falls under the umbrella of other sensitive topics, such as FMLA abuse. Some companies do not feel comfortable investigating possible abuses of FMLA, and do not probe into suspicions of malingering. Often, however, sometimes it’s just a matter of an employee who has a chronic case of the “sniffles.” Malingering employees have a pattern of faking sick in order to get out of working. This can be for a single day Malingerers cost companies across the country billions of dollars a year, with exponential costs of investigation and possible litigation, laying heavy blows to a company’s profits.

Malingering is preventable, but only if an employer provides consistent and accommodating policies concerning their employees’ physical and mental health needs. These enforced policies will leave no single employee feeling victimized by a vindictive supervisor or employer. If your company requires employees to document visits to the doctor, then there should be no exceptions in to that rule, barring extenuating circumstances. After all, asking for documentation is one of the best ways to prevent malingering, because employees who would simply rather stay home will be reluctant to spend their day in the doctor’s office as an alternative. This consistent enforcement of company standards also adds another veneer of integrity that becomes valuable in later stages of any investigation. It’s also important for an employer to remember that there must always be room to accommodate an employee’s needs.  Unreasonable, aggressive policies with regards to sickness can make a work environment unhealthy, both in the physical and metaphysical sense. Employees who don’t feel free to take a sick day when they have an actual illness can spread it to the entire workforce. Employees who also feel as though their needs are not being accommodated can be resentful and their work performance may suffer as a result.

Just as the case with FMLA abuse, in order to have an objective investigation into any honest suspicions of malingering, it’s crucial to retain the services of a external, third-party, private investigator. Investigators appointed from within a company to investigate suspicions of malingering may know the ins and outs of a business intimately, but are objectively useless when it comes to investigate one of their own. For starters, if this employee is well-known to much of the workforce, they will be easily spotted when conducting any surveillance on an employee who is suspected of malingering. They will be recognized and the employee will immediately be on their guard. If an internal investigator is not licensed by the state, they may not know the legality of their methods and it can taint the investigation going forward. Private investigators—while having more autonomy than law enforcement—still must operate within state and federal law. Private investigators are trained to gather and document evidence and interview witnesses to corroborate their observations of a malingering employee’s movements. Any business owner knows that investigating employees for any reason has the potential to lead to litigation, and during those proceedings, an objective, third-party investigator is the one with the most integrity during deposition or testimony, as they do not have a stake in the outcome of the case.

If you suspect an employee of yours is malingering, then lay the groundwork for a solid investigation by retaining the services of a qualified licensed investigators. When it comes to taking the steps to investigate employee malingering, an employer must begin with what’s called “honest suspicion,” which is pretty self-explanatory. When an employer investigates a malingerer with honest suspicions, the decision to hire an external investigator to do so continues the transparent narrative in which the employer acts in the best interest of the company. Hiring private investigators to maintain objectivity not only make for a quality investigation, but also foster a culture of integrity and mutual respect within any company.