It’s been reported that ‘sick shaming,’ or the practice of pressuring workers to work while sick but then ridiculing them for appearing under the weather, is leading to increased sales of cold medication and even causing individuals to overmedicate.

In January, surveyed 1,000 managers to find out their thoughts on workers taking sick time off and if they are engaging in sick shaming.

Key findings:

  • 24% of managers think workers who take sick days often lie or exaggerate their illness
  • One-third of managers often ask for medical documentation as proof of illness
  • 20% encourage workers who are feeling ill to still come into the office
  • 11% admit to sick shaming workers
  • 27% of managers believe a culture that encourages sick employees to work is good for productivity

1 in 4 Managers Think Workers Often Abuse Sick Days

On average, 35% of managers say their direct reports ask for sick time off very often (10%) or often (25%), while 44% say occasionally, 21% say rarely, and less than 1% say never.

One in four managers often suspect that their reports are lying or exaggerating their condition, while 34% often ask for medical documentation as proof of illness for workers who request a sick day.

11% of Managers Admit to Sick Shaming

Our survey found that 20% of managers encourage workers to come into the office even when they are sick. Surprisingly, 45% of these managers (or 11% of the total sample) admit to then often shaming visibly sick workers who choose to come into the office.

Additionally, 27% of managers overall believe a culture that encourages sick employees to work is good for productivity.

“Having a culture where workers are asked to work or just expected to work when sick is bad for companies because it enforces the view that companies only see you as a number versus a human being,” says Resume Builder’s Resume and Career Strategist Julia Toothacre.

“It creates a culture that lacks empathy and ultimately doesn’t care for its employees’ health, well-being, or productivity. People who are sick are more likely to make mistakes and can be slower to comprehend. It doesn’t make sense to encourage sick people to work when they aren’t 100% ready to work.”

3 in 10 Managers Think Workers With Severe Colds Shouldn’t Take the Day Off

Only 20% of managers think workers should take a day off for a mild cold, while 38% say the employee should work from home, 20% say they should still go into the office, and 22% say they should take the day partially off but still answer emails or attend meetings.

For a severe cold, 70% of managers think workers should take the time off, 14% believe the employee should work from home, 5% think workers should still come into the office, and 11% think workers should take the day partially off.

“COVID-19 changed a lot about how we work and specifically how we work when we are sick,” says Toothacre.

“This survey shocked me because of what we went through with COVID. Why are we promoting having people in the office who can spread any kind of illness around? As a result of working from home, there is now an option for many people to take work home when they aren’t feeling well, but that doesn’t mean it should be recommended. Giving employees the option without any pressure would be the best course of action.”

65% Say More Clear Sick Policies Are Needed in the Workplace

Overall, 65% of managers say more clear sick leave policies are definitely (32%) or probably (33%) needed in their workplace.

We asked managers when they think it’s reasonable for workers to take sick days off, and many do not believe it’s always reasonable to take a day off for personal health, mental health, or family emergencies.

Stringent or unofficial sick policies will create an unsupportive environment for employees ultimately resulting in organizations losing talent,” says Toothacre. “Employees are people, and they want to be seen as such. They get sick, they have hard days, their family members get sick, and life happens. The average employee won’t take advantage of the system if they are in a supportive and flexible culture.”


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish. It was launched on Jan. 10, 2024, and 1,000 respondents completed the full survey.

To qualify for the survey, all participants had to work at a company with at least 11 employees and have an executive, director, and manager-level title. Respondents also had to have a household income of at least $50,00 and be at least 25 years old. Finally, respondents were screened out if they answered that they do not manage one or more direct reports.

To avoid bias, Pollfish employs Random Device Engagement (RDE) to ensure both random and organic surveying. Contact [email protected] for more information.