THACKERVILLE, Okla. — Feeling like playing hooky, but nervous about getting caught? The Excused Absence Network has got your back.
For about $25, students and employees can buy excuse notes that appear to come from doctors or hospitals. Other options include a fake jury summons or an authentic-looking funeral service program complete with comforting poems and a list of pallbearers.
Some question whether the products are legal or ethical — or even work — but the company’s owners say they’re just helping people do something they would have done anyway.
“Millions of Americans work dead-end jobs, and sometimes they just need a day off,” said John Liddell, co-founder of the Internet-based company Vision Matters, which sells the notes as part of its Excused Absence Network. “People are going to lie anyway. How many people go visit their doctors every day when they’re not sick because they just need a note?”
The company’s customers receive templates so they can print the notes after typing the name and address of a local doctor or emergency room. Those who choose jury duty as an excuse to miss work enter their county courthouse information on the form.
Though the company’s disclaimer advises the notes are “for entertainment purposes only,” its Web site shows pictures of people sunbathing and playing golf using the fabricated excuses. One testimonial says: “I’ve managed to take the nine weeks off using these templates! It couldn’t be any easier!”
Actually, for one New Jersey woman it wasn’t so easy. She was arrested this year after using one of the company’s notes to support her claim she was too injured to appear in traffic court for a speeding ticket. She was caught after court officials called the chiropractor listed and he told them he never heard of the woman.
Vision Matters co-founder Darl Waterhouse said people looking to trick their bosses probably won’t get caught because of federal restrictions on the release of patient medical information.
But some are concerned about potential problems.
If bosses find out the notes are not authentic, they might think the medical provider helped in the scam, said Dr. John Z. Sadler, a psychiatry and clinical sciences professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Reputations could be unfairly damaged, and accreditation or license problems could arise, he said.
“I can’t speak for doctors in general, but for me this practice sounds awful,” said Sadler, also the director of UT-Southwestern’s Program in Ethics in Science and Medicine. “This business practice seems comparable to the ways ‘diploma mills’ and ‘term papers online’ are wrongful.”
Sadler said people who skip work without a legitimate reason are burdening conscientious employees.
“If I was the co-worker, I’d turn the rascal in,” Sadler said.
Many businesses require documentation if an employee misses work. But several companies declined to reveal their specific policies or say whether the possibility their workers might use fake excuse notes is a concern.
“At Lockheed Martin, we have a highly ethical culture and it is extremely unlikely any of our employees would use these kinds of services,” according to a statement from Lockheed Martin Aeronatics Co. in Fort Worth, Texas.
An annual nationwide survey of more than 300 human resource executives found an absenteeism rate of about 2.3 percent this year. That’s down from 2.5 percent in 2006, the highest rate since 2.7 percent in 1999.
The survey was conducted by the Harris Interactive consulting firm for CCH Inc., which provides employment law information.
The executives surveyed said that two-thirds of employees who call in sick at the last minute are really missing work due to family issues, personal needs, stress and an entitlement mentality. Personal illness accounts for only 34 percent of the absences.
The Vision Matters founders said many employees are fed up with working long hours for little pay, then having no flexibility if they needed to tend to a sick relative or attend their children’s school activities.
“If employers would treat people the way they need to be treated, people wouldn’t be using these notes,” Liddell said.
Liddell and Waterhouse met about four years ago while working in security for a manufacturing company. After seeing several employees write fake doctor notes, the men launched the Internet business on about $300 each.
Liddell runs the company from a laptop in his home in Thackerville, a town of about 400 located a few miles north of the Oklahoma-Texas line. He won’t reveal sales numbers, but says the Web site gets about 15,000 hits a month.
Waterhouse said customers have used the notes not only to miss work but to get out of gym membership contracts.
“There’s no way we could think of every way to use it,” he said.
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