What is malingering? Malingering is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “to pretend to be sick or injured in order to avoid doing work.” The most famous malingerer might be Ferris Bueller, but while he only cost his friend’s dad money buying a new car, malingering Americans cost billions of dollars a year. According to a study available in the US National Library of Medicine, malingering adult mental disorder claimants costs were $20 billion in 2011. Below are some ways you can nip malingering in the bud.

Apply standards consistently

In order to make sure employees understand expectations and don’t feel singled out, standards and practices have to be enforced consistently. If you make one employee get a doctor’s note after calling in sick then you need to make every employee do the same. Medical issues are a sensitive topic and companies can get into hot water if an employee feels they’re being treated unfairly due to their health. Consider printing out a guide explaining expectations and having employees sign a sheet acknowledging they received one so there’s no confusion if this becomes an issue.

Ask for proof

If an employee is having bad enough medical issues to miss work then they should see a doctor to find out what’s going. Getting sick for a day isn’t uncommon, but when a medical issue regularly prevents an employee from working, something needs to be done. It’s not unfair for an employer to ask for documentation of the problem.

Knowing ahead of time that proof will be required when they come back to work will help deter malingering and prevent excuses about why they couldn’t provide proof. Even if you trust the employee, always get documentation for company records and to ensure consistently applied standards.

Be accommodating to employees needs

Even if you suspect an employee is malingering, be open to accommodating their needs. If they are malingering then they’ll lack excuses for not working when the company shows it’s ready and willing to work with them. If they’re not malingering then the company will have already done the right thing by creating an accommodating and inclusive environment. Making it tougher for employees to excuse their lack of work actually makes it easier for employees with genuine issues to work.

Be patient whether they’re faking it or not

Determining if an employee is malingering can take time. One of the most famous cases of malingering is the 1927 Bruneri-Canella. Brunei, a petty thief and con-man, pretended he had amnesia and was mistakenly identified as an Italian professor that went missing in World War I. The thief kept up his charade for years even pretending not to remember his family despite them identifying him. Eventually a court determined he was faking it. Patience is needed because if an employee is faking it, eventually they’ll be caught, but if they’re being honest, rushing to judgement is a big mistake.


When an employee continues to claim they’re having medical issues, but you suspect something is off, contact a private investigator to look into the matter. It’s never fun to accuse someone of lying, but it’s a lot less fun to lose money to a scammer. Private investigators will be able to quickly find out if the employee is malingering or genuinely having problems.