Absent coworker: Ask her to stop, or play hooky also?

by EPI Staff on June 11, 2011

Q: A colleague calls in sick at least once a month, but she’s confided in me that she’s really playing hooky. What should I do?

A: Tell her it bothers you. Say something like, “Ellen, I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep taking sick days when you’re not sick. And it’s unfair to everyone else who gets stuck doing your work. I wish you’d stop.” Point out that someone higher up is bound to notice. Give her a chance to clean up her act. If she doesn’t, then you’ll have to decide whether you want to take things further by alerting your boss or someone in the human resources department.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

polite punk June 11, 2011 at 12:42 am

Are you stuck with extra work when she calls in sick? If so, that’s not cool.

Do you think she’s at a risk of losing her job from all her sick days? It would be “the good friend” thing to tell her.

Otherwise, she’s an adult. Let her make her own mistakes. It will all catch up to her eventually.

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BWoz July 1, 2011 at 1:55 am

#1: If you have to do her work while she’s gone, let her know it bothers you.

#2: If you don’t….bug off. Her time off is HER TIME OFF. Many businesses and local governments take your time away if you don’t use it by a certain date. And that’s not fair — it was earned by being there and working! Really. I do not understand why people are so bothered by others using what they earned. Just saying.

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puggy August 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I have a similar question.

I have a coworker who routinely takes 2.5-3 hour lunches and leaves an hour early without declaring it on her timesheet. Other times throughout the day she’ll leave her desk and be impossible to find, and when she is at her desk she’s constantly on the phone taking personal calls. She won’t even hang up when a coworker or even her boss needs her. On top of all of this, she usually is late to meetings or misses them entirely without letting her boss know in advance, and when she is there she’s on her phone texting and not paying attention.

And the kicker is that her boss does nothing about it. He never tells her to get off her phone or to stop being late to meetings, and since she’s still only working a few hours each day, I’m sure he hasn’t talked to her about that, either. He must notice her long absences, but he either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t feel the need to get the company’s money out of her.

I work in a small department in a large company, so other coworkers have noticed her uncaring behavior and it’s starting to wear on us. While her absence doesn’t inhibit our workflow very much, it’s still unfair and a waste of time. What she doesn’t get done, we must do.

Should we bring it up in black and white terms to the boss? Should we confront her about it first? Quite frankly, I’m surprised she’s made it this long without being fired.

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Country Girl August 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm

“What she doesn’t get done, we must do.”

It seems this employee’s carefree, workfree attitude IS inhibiting workflow by causing you and your coworkers to take on extra work, and that is a problem. I would not address her, I would instead address your boss directly and keep things strictly professional without “guns-a-blazin” outright dogging her work ethic. (That could just come across as catty, and put you in a bad light.)

I would arrange a private meeting with your boss (and encourage affected coworkers to do the same) and say something like:

“Mr Boss, I wanted to speak with you about my workload. It seems that lately I have been needing to take a lot of extra time to complete work that should be handled by XYZ (lazy cowoker’s) department. While I have no problem taking on new challenges, it seems that me handing these documents/projects is counter-productive, as I have to stop work on the projects I am responsible for in order to take on these extra tasks.”

If he begins to balk about “Well they/she must just have an extra busy workload” or some such excuse, I would see that as the opportunity to bring your experiences with this coworker “Well Mr. Boss, respectfully, I must disagree. On more than one occasion I have tried to speak with Jane about these projects and have been unable because she is late coming into work, or I have been ignored due to her taking a personal call.”

Keep things strictly to the facts, and leave hearsay and emotion out of your conversation. Keep your main focus on company productivity and (unless he is a completely worthless boss, in which case why would you want to work for this person?) he should step up and take control of the situation. And as always, power in numbers, it is harder to ignore a group of employees with the same concern.

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Winifred Rosenburg August 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I would mention it to the coworker first. I don’t think that will make any difference, but this way you won’t get a reputation for talking behind people’s backs. Keep it friendly and say something along the lines of “I think people are starting to notice the fact that you… To avoid getting in trouble you should probably avoid people seeing your desk empty when you’re supposed to be here.”

When that doesn’t work, you can go to your boss and say you think her absence is impacting the work environment in a negative way. Don’t suggest what your boss should do about it, just make him aware.

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Vanna Keiler August 31, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I like the suggestions already posted for Puggy’s question and would like to add my own: Sounds like she is (1) unnecessarily and unfairly adding to your workload and (2) affecting workplace morale. If you can support the two with specific examples and show a history of this behavior, I would proceed with approaching her boss, maybe approach your own boss first. If you cannot provide concrete examples and she manages to stay above the radar (or keep her job somehow), I would weigh how important it is to you and your own ambitions at your company to get involved with this slacker’s job performance.

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