my boss won’t do anything about a coworker with attendance problems

A reader writes:

I am the office manager for a small business. Part of my job is to keep attendance for payroll. The previous office manager had problems with the staff turning in approved PTO request forms in time. I joined last year, and I inherited a mess. The employees weren’t notifying their managers when they were taking time off and managers weren’t doing anything about it. There weren’t accurate records of how much time off some employees took.

I had a meeting with the managers and had some success in collecting approved PTO forms, with the exception of one person. This particular employee has been with the company since the day the company started, 15 years ago. She was a successful salesperson and she did most of the work to acquire one of the company’s most profitable accounts.

When the company first started, there were only 4 employees so there weren’t any formal procedures for taking time off. She seems to be stuck in the past. She is consistently late for work. Business hours start at 9 a.m. and she shows up whenever she wants. Sometimes she does not show up at all and does not call or email the office. Other employees have commented that she comes in whenever she wants and that she acts like the “Queen Bee.” I have reminded her directly regarding the company’s policy on attendance and referenced the employee handbook. I even offered her a different work schedule of 10 am to 6 pm but she is still late.

She reports to the president of the company. I have discussed this matter with him. I told him that he needs to reiterate the importance of asking for time off in advance and coming in on time. He has only asked her to let me know if she will be late. When he is out of town, she does not show up and emails me after lunch, telling me something came up and will work from home. We don’t have a work from home policy.

I feel like my hands are tied and the boss won’t do anything. I think he won’t fire her because of her influence in our industry as well as her tenure. I can’t write her up even though I have suggested this to the president. I want to take a different action to resolve this but I don’t know what else to do. What do you suggest?

Stop worrying about it. It doesn’t sound like this is your job.

Your job is to keep attendance for payroll. It’s not to write people up or set their hours or discipline them for not working specific hours or stop them from working from home. Those things are the job of their managers.

More importantly, it also sounds like you’re way out of alignment with the company president about what matters to the company. You’re wondering why he won’t fire a top salesperson for working a flexible schedule, when he doesn’t even seem to object to flexible schedules?

Since you’ve brought your concerns to his attention and he’s declined to do anything about it, that means that one of the following two things is happening:

1. The president doesn’t care because she does good work, and he’s more interested in the results she produces than in how she handles her hours. This is a very common attitude, particularly when dealing with senior-level people, and in fact it’s a good one –– good managers focus on results over face time. Many high performers keep their own hours and telecommute when the work allows it, and many companies welcome it, because (a) these are benefits that attract and retain high performers and (b) results are what matter.

2. Alternately, maybe the president does care, but isn’t willing to do anything about it because he’s not sufficiently assertive. If this is the case, though, it’s still not your problem. He’s her boss, and the way he manages her is up to him.

Now, if her habits are causing real problems for you, then you can certainly bring those problems to the president’s attention. But it needs to be framed in terms of the impact on you or the office’s work — not in terms of her not following the office rules, because he’s already shown that he doesn’t consider that sufficient cause for him to take action. And if you’re not able to point to specific impacts on you, and the issue is just that it seems unfair that she’s not following the same rules that everyone else is following, then it’s time to let this drop entirely. Because again, you’re not her manager, and this isn’t your job to act on.

Ultimately, as the office manager, you can point out problems and suggest solutions, but you can’t tell other managers how to manage their staff. If the president of the company doesn’t have a problem with a top salesperson having this type of flexibility, you shouldn’t have a problem with it either.

By continuing to pursue this, you risk looking like you don’t understand what’s important to the business, and that’s a much more serious issue than someone coming in late and still getting all their work done.

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly O*

    I completely agree with you Alison.

    My question to the OP would be this – what is your purpose in pursuing this so diligently?

    1. EM*

      I’m wondering this too. Perhaps people in the office wonder aloud where the coworker is, but not necessarily because they can’t do their work because of her absence.

      I have a coworker who is one of the boss’ (the president/owner of our small company) favorites, and he is rarely in the office. He works mostly offsite at client offices, as most of his contracts are several-hundred-thousand dollars to 1M in value. By contrast, the rest of us capture/manage projects generally in the 10-50K range, so yeah, he’s on a different plane from the rest of us. He also routinely works 50-60 hour weeks.

    2. Kou*

      I’m curious about this, too. If I was the OP I would be hesitant to say anything about it after the first time someone (especially the president) shrugged it off. If she’s been there since day one and helped build the company and everyone on high is ok with her schedule, I wouldn’t want to be the new person coming in kicking up a fuss about her.

  2. Kerry*

    “The president doesn’t care because she does good work, and he’s more interested in the results she produces than in how she handles her hours. This is a very common attitude, particularly when dealing with senior-level people, and in fact it’s a good one — good managers focus on results over face time. ”

    Nailed it. I also don’t really understand what the OP is looking for – it would be one thing if she wasn’t accomplishing her work, but it sounds like she’s extremely good at her job. Unless you’re saying that her achievements are falling off? (It’s hard to tell from the sentence “She was a successful salesperson”, but it sounds from the way the president treats her that she’s still very good.) And even then, it would be frustrating but I don’t think it’s your position to deal with her performance issues, if she has any.

    Maybe a solution would be to propose modifying the current policies, so she’s not ‘violating’ them any more? Ie, creating a work-from-home policy and revising the rules about notifying people. That would resolve the issue of Saleswoman Vs The Rulebook.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Exactly — have the rules reflect the way the president wants the company run, rather than chasing after him to enforce rules that aren’t in sync with the culture he wants.

      1. Kerry*

        As part of a bigger conversation, like “Is the handbook still reflecting what you want the culture to look like? Specifically working from home and timekeeping, but also more generally”, it might help the OP and the president communicate more clearly about big picture goals and ideas about the company, too.

        1. Emily K*

          I like this suggestion the best. OP seems like she just wants the stability of an environment where she knows what to expect from folks per the rules, and there’s a procedure to follow for everything. She can resolve this by simply updating the handbook to reflect reality!

    2. Lils*

      Agreed. I’m all about documenting policies and procedures and it would feel annoyingly chaotic to me if people were just allowed to break rules randomly. But you have to make the rulebook reflect reality. Obviously, if there is something illegal or unethical going on, policies and procedures should be changed and enforced. But otherwise this type of situation could be addressed with a simple statement about employees being allowed to work flexible hours at the manager’s discretion. Ask the President to approve a review of the policies and procedures. Good luck!

        1. Lils*

          absolutely…and us OCD nerds need to learn to *let it go*. The purpose of documentation is to tell a new person what to do if I get hit by a bus and how we make decisions, not for me to be able to control every detail of the office workflow. Much as I would secretly love to. Yes, I am that person that straightens the supply closet and organizes the highlighters by color when you are not looking.

    3. Joey*

      Your solution sounds good on the surface, but don’t be surprised if the executive doesn’t respond well to creating a bunch of policy changes for what’s probably one person. It makes more sense just to ask how the issues should be handled. Only when more folks are being treated differently would it make sense to recommend new/revised policies. Otherwise it creates confusion when those policies aren’t likely to apply to most employees.

  3. Shelley*

    Wow. It sounds to me like the Office Manager is trying to run the show when that is really not their job. They had concerns and brought it up to the president and the president doesn’t care. And why would the president care if this person has been around since the dawn of the company and is making tons of money for the company?

    And since when is it the Office Manager’s job to offer people alternate work schedules? It sounds like the OP has some control issues and wants to be in charge when they are not in charge. And when the Office Manager is the new person on the block (with the salesperson having 15 years’ worth of seniority), it’s probably not a good idea to keep pursuing this…

    1. COT*

      Agreed–OP, you are way overstepping the boundaries of your role by continuing to harp on this issue.

      The only thing you should take to the president is a question about how he wants you to handle accounting for this person’s PTO (or not accounting for it, as you were). Don’t bring any passion-aggression into this conversation. Focus on what you need to do your job and let him handle the rest.

      I know that you might naturally be oriented towards fairness, following the rules, or black-and-white thinking… but that is irrelevant here.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I’m not even sure it is a matter of “fairness”. The office manager needs to be in the office from certain times to manage the office. The sales person will be with clients (out of office) and the office manager won’t see that work being done.

        Another issue – the saleserson is a revenue generator. The office manager is not. Be very, very, very careful when biting the hand that feeds you. Her revenues are feeding your paycheck.

    2. Lisa*

      This is how you lose your star performers, by nitpicking every little thing. Add them up and that makes a person say “this isnt worth it”

      1. Anonymous for Comments*

        Exactly. And another organization is more than happy to hire a top performer and enjoy the results of adding a star employee to their organization.

    3. M-C*

      Exactly. An office manager needs to keep regular hours at her desk to perform her job properly. If the OP is sick with envy at the top salesperson’s hours, she should try changing fields and then raising her own level to that. But otherwise being short-sighted about bureaucracy isn’t going to lead her anywhere. Besides, the office manager here I’m sure does fewer hours in fact than the person she’s trying to micro-manage, as her job does not involve sitting in a chair marking time. It sounds to me like the boss appreciates the sales person’s work, and it’s a lot easier to get a more flexible and less controlling office manager than another salesperson with good performance.

      I’ve personally been a witness to someone who’d been wooed intensely for over 6 months coming in on his 2nd morning, finding a memo (really addressed to someone else) on his chair about how hours were supposed to be from 9am, putting the memo back down and walking out never to be seen again. We were never again harassed about hours at that company :-), and rightly so. We sure worked hard enough, and got the results to prove it.

  4. BCW*

    This is one of those issues where I agree that its not your problem. Now if the lack of paperwork for her PTO is making your job difficult because you can’t calculate how much she is paid, thats one thing. However if she is a salesperson I’m guessing she is salary + comission, and therefore actual “hours” in the office don’t really matter.

    1. Julie*

      This was my thought as well. If it’s causing a problem for OP’s work, I might frame it to the president along the lines of, “Because Jane often works flexible schedules or from home, I don’t have the information I need to calculate payroll properly. What can I do about this?”

  5. Elizabeth West*

    Nowhere does the OP say that the salesperson isn’t producing. It seems like she’s trying to be diligent in her position, but flexibility is also important. If the lateness and absences are causing problems, she has a valid point to bring up to the president. Only one thing I can see that would be problematic, and that is if the salesperson were unreachable when needed. If she is, yes, I would mention that, but if not, I can’t see the issue.

  6. Anonymous*

    Agree as well and OP, I think you are in jeopardy of having this affect your job if you continue to pursue it. It sounds like this situation is a bit out of hand, where other employees (and you) are talking about this woman behind her back and getting all riled up about “it’s not fair”. And it’s ok to notice something seems unfair but where things get dangerous is when you take it upon yourself to right that wrong — assuming that if you continue to point out to the boss that it’s not fair this person gets special treatment, he’ll do something. I think he’s shown he won’t – he knows what she’s doing and it’s not a problem for him.

    I an fall into that trap too – if only I can explain it well enough/often enough, then people will see my point and agree with me because I am RIGHT! I have to keep an eye on myself for that because “fair” is a pain point for me, as is “but I’m know I’m right”. It’s a cliche, but I do try and focus on “would I rather be right or happy?”. In this case, you may be right that this woman “should” follow the rules but as long as you expect that she will, you are going to be constantly disappointed/unhappy. If you can’t change her, you can change your expectations.

    1. Ariancita*

      Agree about gossiping about her is not good. Calling her “queen bee” behind her back among the other staff sows a lot of negativity. In fact, she is sort of queen bee–she’s been there from the beginning (and so she was there at start up, so she probably worked a lot of hours for free), landed the company’s major client, gained a great reputation that is great and profitable for the company, and continues to be a top performer. Stop gossiping about her. It’s no doubt creating negativity.

      1. Jamie*

        She sounds like she’s pretty powerful and has a good reputation in the industry as well as upper management at the company.

        If I were Machiavellian those reasons alone would be enough to want to be on her good side. I can’t see why anyone would want to make an enemy of her in the interest of rules her boss doesn’t care about.

        I’ve never known an OM to have the power to set someone’s hours (except a direct report) much less someone so senior. Either this is different than the Office Manager role IME or the OP is really overstepping boundaries.

  7. fposte*

    While I completely agree with Alison and everybody responding, I have some sympathy for the OP–it’s a reasonable request, other people are managing to handle it, and it’s The Right Thing To Do (I can get pretty invested in the Way Things Ought to be Done as a general principle). I also understand a fear of looking like I can’t keep my obligations under control as a consequence.

    The trick is moving beyond my own little brain world to the organization’s needs as a whole and remembering that The Way Things Ought to Be Done is mostly just a staving-off-argument euphemism for The Way I Like It. Is it good for the organization to prioritize 9 a.m. roll call over sales figures? Probably not. Is it good for the organization to prioritize tidy PTO over retaining a solid producer? Probably not. Would saving money on the odd PTO error offset the costs of a job search and client loss if the big producer was fired? Probably not.

    I find it helps to think backward from the organization to my obligations and figure out what I can do to allow the organization to get stuff done. This is more about how the office manager can get stuff done, and that’s where it’s going wrong.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I’m wondering if from the saleswoman’s POV, she has been there 15 years and has accumulated & forfeited enough PTO over her tenure that she feels she can do as she pleases (which I would personally tend to agree with). If she is salaried, at her tenure, the PTO is probably more a formality than anything else.

      1. fposte*

        I can definitely see that, and I can definitely see the boss thinking that–it certainly makes sense to me. With exempt employees who do a lot of work outside of usual business hours PTO always seems like a slightly tiresome formality anyway.

        I’m wondering if this is a situation where the OP was either told or self-characterized that her goal was to regularize all this paperwork that wasn’t regularized. It’s certainly possible that what was communicated to the OP isn’t actually what the organization really wants–but now there’s a fair amount of evidence about what the organization does really want, and that’s what actually needs to be attended to.

        1. KayDay*

          “the OP was either told or self-characterized that her goal was to regularize all this paperwork that wasn’t regularized.” That would make a lot of sense, as that’s something that a good office manager would generally be expected to do.

          “the PTO is probably more a formality than anything else.” While that makes sense from the employee and boss’s point of view, I could see how it is really confusing for the OP to figure out if she needs to charge the employee’s PTO or not. (and it might not be apparent from the boss’s perspective.) Do employees at this company not keep their own timesheets?

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I could see how it is really confusing for the OP to figure out if she needs to charge the employee’s PTO or not.

            Except that the OP said this:
            I told him that he needs to reiterate the importance of asking for time off in advance and coming in on time. He has only asked her to let me know if she will be late.

            It sounds to me if the saleswoman doesn’t show up, let it go. The president has told the OP that he’s not concerned about tracking the saleswoman’s time, just not in those exact words.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I feel like the OP is really focused on a mission and isn’t seeing the signs that it’s not really a mission she should be on.

    2. Just Laura*

      I agree and also sympathize with OP. It also sounds like the situation causes some grumbling/drama around the office, which OP has to hear. I think Alison’s advice is correct, and hope OP can just shrug off the annoying behavior.

    3. ScarletAngel*

      Now if you can picture this behavior X 1/3 of a call center, I can tell you what happens. If makes the other employees that come in on time and every day resentful. Why bother writing an employee handbook if the rules don’t apply to everyone, It’s like a rotten apple because the other employees are going to start doing the same thing. If they are fired, it could cost the company money for wrongful termination.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    How does the OP even know the saleswoman is late? Maybe she’s out making sales calls. Our sales people have enormous flexibility and usually are not in the office period.

    1. EM*

      Exactly. There are days when the office is totally empty, except for the admin people, because the rest of us are out in the field working. We’re not “coming in late” or “not showing up”, we’re doing chargeable work for clients.

  9. Rob*

    While I agree with what Alison’s response is, based on what the OP is saying, it seems like this employee is playing by a different set of rules then the rest of the staff. If the rest of the staff is calling the employee the ‘Queen Bee’ then there might be something to that?

    That being said, it also seems like there is a chain of command issue. How is the OP able to set/propose working hours for employees who report to another person? The OP may want to get that type of stuff sorted out before worrying about anything else.

    1. Piper*

      Don’t salespeople usually play by different rules than the rest of the staff? I’ve never met a salesperson that keeps a set 9 to 5 schedule. Flexible schedules are just part of that job.

  10. Ariancita*

    Absolutely agree. I was reading this letter and kept thinking, “Why is the office manager setting her schedule and suggesting write ups?” Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

    My work is much like your possible 1#. As long as work is done well and on time, face time doesn’t matter. Top performers are allowed very flexible schedules while admin people have set hours because of their roles.

  11. Not So NewReader*

    Would it be more to the point for OP to ask how the president would like PTO tracked? That seems to be the starting point for the concern.
    His answer could be as simple as “Don’t track Jane’s time.”

    Am a bit confused- when did the formal procedures enter the scene? Was that part of OPs job to formalize things and get everyone on the same page? Did the president request this? If yes, he could have let OP know at the start not to expect “Jane” to be required to follow the formalized rules.

  12. KayDay*

    Ok, I’m a little confused–is the OP having trouble processing payroll because she isn’t being informed in a timely manner if the employee in question is taking PTO or working a full day? Because that would be a legitimate, although easily solvable, problem. If that’s the case, the boss does need to talk to the employee (and the OP as well) to work out the communication problem regarding PTO.

  13. Snow*

    Alison is right – as usual. Also, in general people need to worry less about face time and attendance than actual results.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Plus, it seems she probably IS the Queen Bee. The phrase because of her influence in our industry seems like a good indication.

    2. Joey*

      That probably means the employee gets to play by a different set of rules and the op sees it as unfair, inconsistent, etc. Although it sounds like she earned it by tenure and performance. This is super common with the folks that are charged with timekeeping. They just can’t comprehend the company allowing employees to break the rules. That’s a good thing, but you just can’t keep pestering the boss once he’s made a decision.

      1. Scott M*

        This is what I saw also. If I have a job to do, and the rules say “do it THIS way”, but someone else does it “THAT way” then I have an obligation to bring it to the attention of management.

        The problem seems to be a issue of implicit vs explicit expectations. The OP’s management is giving her ‘hints’ that the rules don’t apply to the salesperson. What they really need to do is say “Everyone needs to do this except so-and-so”.

        Vague stuff like this is the bane of my job. It’s why I got into I.T. but I never really get away from it.

        1. Joey*

          As I’m sure you’re aware there are very few jobs, if any, where rules will never be broken. And the higher you go the more you’ll find yourself having to break the rules or at minimum being more creative in your interpretation of the rules.

    3. A Bug!*

      It’s significant because the letter-writer sees it as significant. If the letter-writer shared this information it’s possible she agrees with the sentiment.

      To the writer: behind-the-back name-calling is super obnoxious, so I hope you’re not participating in it or encouraging others who do by responding favorably to it. While you’re not necessarily obligated to call people out on it, you shouldn’t provide a welcoming audience to it.

      It’s especially obnoxious because from your letter it sounds like this particular salesperson has been a great benefit to the company and I see nothing in the letter to indicate that she treats her coworkers poorly, so there’s a whiff of sour grapes in complaining about behavior that doesn’t actually have an effect on the rest of you.

  14. Just a Reader*

    I love when people get so hung up on process that the solution would actually hamper productivity and employee happiness.

  15. Mike*

    One thing I can think of is if she isn’t reporting her vacation time that can pose a financial liability to the organization if there isn’t a limit on the amount of accrued vacation.

    1. Michelle*

      I had this thought as well. In California employees accrue all time off and the company is liable upon seperation so someone does need to track it. May just ask for a monthly or quarterly report out from her on number of days taken?

  16. Anonymous*

    Salespeople and fundraising are often out of the office because their office requires this, hence their schedule may be (or at least appear to be) more flexible.
    Our top fundraiser is in his office maybe 3 out of 5 days of the week. The other times he is out meeting with people. On the other hand, he recently nabbed a very big donor, essentially making all of his quotas for the year with that single donor.
    With that kind of performance, coming in at 9 am is probably not going to be a sticking point for us (plus, like I said, it’s not like the man is not working very odd hours to get those accounts, many times he has to attend evening functions).
    Regarding the Queen Bee: I have never been in a situation in which senior employees don’t have certain privileges that come from being senior employees. Although this generally means more flexibility with hours, it’s also more responsibility. I can clock out at 5 and forget about work. My boss, on the other hand, has to respond to any issues even if it’s 7 and he’s having his dinner. He may have to work late certain nights, etc. It may seem unfair at first glance but there are usually trade-offs involved.

  17. Anonymous for Comments*

    Throwing in my $.02.

    My boss won’t do anything about a coworker who won’t show up, call or contact when he won’t be in, and doesn’t complete assignments. His work is reallocated on a regular basis to other staff members. The boss will often complain “He keeps doing this and won’t complete his work”. What are the consequences? Nothing, nothing and nothing.

    The other staff members are expected to complete their assignments and his also. It’d be understandable if this particular coworker was making money for the company and getting results and work done, but it’s the opposite.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I wonder if you can all collectively push back on picking up the slack regularly. Cite workloads/availability to do someone else’s work. A united front would make it harder to ignore the problem.

      1. Anonymous for Comments*

        We have tried to no avail, unfortunately. I’ve been employed at my current job for 2 years. This problem has been going on for 7 years as per a more senior employee.

        As Allison would say “When your manager won’t manage, it’s time to find another that will”. I think it’s really saying something that out of 5 total employees at my job, 4 are actively seeking other employment.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a bad manager.

      In the OP’s case, it seems more about the manager making reasonable decisions (unlike yours) but not explicitly telling the OP that what’s happening is fine.

      1. Anonymous for Comments*

        Agreed 100%. IMO, the OP’s situation isn’t a major issue. The sales rep is a top performing sales rep and has a flexible schedule. Definitely not an issue that I can see from what has been posted.

        And agreed my current manager isn’t making reasonable decisions or reasonable actions.

  18. Samantha Jane Bolin*

    I’ll offer my perspective from being in a (somewhat) similar situation (I imagine) as the 15-year veteran. I was the first person hired in a start-up organization. Part of the conditions under which I was hired (after being sought after) was that I would have an extremely flexible schedule – come in after dropping my child off at daycare, leave when needed, and time off when needed – all within reason, of course. I’m not the type of person who takes advantage of things.

    I rarely actually take a vacation, but the flexibility allowed me to be at my kid’s school parties, field trips, eat lunch with them, etc. In one year, the most I ever took was probably 15 or 16 days.

    Fast forward a few years: the original person who hired me gone, I’m now expected to report in at exactly 8:00 and only get two weeks of vacation (after almost 5 years of service). Imagine how happy that makes me now. Especially b/c I have to be available anytime I’m out of the office – evenings, weekends, vacation, sick days.

    Which is more expensive – honoring the hiring agreement or replacing me? I’d imagine, in this instance, that that is the President’s thought. It’s likely he’s honoring a hiring agreement they made and she’s a top-producer. Keep her happy!

    1. Nodumbunny*

      This happened to me as well. Hired in by the CEO after being his consultant on a big deal project. Only came in house because he agreed to flexible schedule. Fast forward three years, new COO comes in, doesn’t like my flexible schedule. Fairness blah blah blah. Half a year later, I’m gone.

  19. shake*

    I think this may be a situation where the writer needs to think about the full impact of what they are doing. As an example I used to work an afternoon shift in which we had an employee that would come in every evening to do about two hours of data entry work. It didn’t matter when she came in, as long as the two hours was done every day.
    She had a full time day job that she had been working for seven years (can’t remember what she did now, but I do know she did not have to interact with any clients/customers). She was always late to this job (as in ten to twenty minutes and on some rare occasions thirty minutes) however she was ALWAYS the employee that would stay late every time they needed someone to, and she was the employee that would ALWAYS work the weekends if needed.
    Her day job hired a new manager that couldn’t stand her tardiness and after seven years of no problems they started to write her up. She decided to quit that job. She kept in touch with coworkers from her old day job and after she left her old employer had to hire two people to take her place. Not only that, now the rest of the staff had to rotate working late nights and weekends-and no one was happy about that!
    She was hired by a new place within two weeks that set her work schedule to start at ten. She was no longer tardy (I suspect she was just not a morning person) and she got a big fat salary bump to boot.

  20. Malissa*

    OP–what should be done, is you doing your job. Keep track of her hours. You’ve told her boss the issue. Now let it drop. Continuing to harp on the issue like the boss doesn’t know how to do his job is not going to look good for you.
    Now if there are real logistical problems, feel free to ask about those. But does it really matter how much PTO time this person takes at the end of the pay period? Or is she getting paid the same regardless? If it’s the later, then let it go. if it’s the former then you need to ask her/her boss how they want to account for those hours.

  21. Mishsmom*

    i think OP might have a problem with office morale, however, when they see her getting away with stuff they can’t. she may be awesome and the best ever, but i can see why the OP is bothered. what’s easier to deal with – an unhappy sales person or an unhappy office? neither :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Someone in management (either the president or the unhappy people’s managers) needs to be more explicit about what’s going on: “Jane frequently works evenings or weekends and so she has more flexibility with her schedule during the day” or “The nature of Jane’s role and performance means she’s been cleared for a more flexible schedule” or whatever it is.

      And the OP could suggest that that happen — but that’s different than pushing to have her follow the same rules as everyone else.

      1. Scott M*

        YES. Upper management frequently forgets that lower-level employees don’t have as much flexibility to ‘interpret’ the rules. We follow the ‘letter of the law’ because we may have gotten burned too many times when we didn’t.
        Not only should the OP’s management give explicit expectations, but the OP should ask management what should be done differently, for this salesperson, for each step of the PTO process. It may be that management doesn’t understand how the ‘flexibility’ of this one person is playing havoc with the process for everyone else.

      2. Lils*

        I agree–the president should be far more clear with everyone about what the expectations are for the OP, “Queen Bee” and everyone else. Right now it looks like playing favorites. Clarifying the rights and responsibilities of each person’s role may improve morale.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      My thought, too. A morale problem is coming up or perhaps in process.

      I think we are too familiar with the stories of the high paid employee that spends the day at the mall, etc. Some folks get jaded attitudes. If they do not actually see someone working- they assume the person is not working.

  22. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    While I agree that face time should not be as important as results, I think there are some things that commenters here aren’t taking into account about how this impacts OP’s job.

    First, hours are reportable for Worker’s Comp purposes. You’re supposed to be exact (and if you’re over-reporting, by say putting an employee down as coming in at 9 when they didn’t show up until noon, then the company is over-paying all kinds of taxes). And if a person was on vacation and the OP didn’t know it, that’s a week of over-payment.

    Also, more and more states/localities require exacting records for PTO, which must be reported either in an online portal or on the employee’s pay stubs. If you’re not accurately tracking PTO, you’re not in legal compliance.

    Also, if the sales woman in question is taking tons of PTO without reporting it, and other employees are held to a more exacting standard, there are potential legal pitfalls there (in terms of potential discrimination suits, or in terms of differing policies on how accrued time off is paid out when an employee leaves, which is also sometimes governed by state law).

    I don’t know if any of that is the case for OP, but it definitely could be. There are legitimate reasons for collecting this data (other than the fact that the authority to follow up with attendance issues maybe *has* been delegated to her, far from over-stepping her boundaries. There are certain commonalities in office manager roles, but as I am also an OM, there are also significant differences in the ways each employer handles that role. So the yelling at OP for overstepping her boundaries is a little premature, without knowing what her boundaries even are).

    1. LPBB*

      If that’s that’s the case, then I think the OP should (assuming she hasn’t already) explain to the president and the employee exactly why it’s so important. If she’s presenting it those involved the way she’s presenting it here, it is very easy to write her off as overstepping her boundaries and dismiss her concerns. Just look at the reaction of the commenters on this thread.

      Maybe if the top performer knows why this is such a bugaboo for the OP, she’ll be more inclined to cooperate rather than blowing her off.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But again here, this is the manager’s call, not the OP’s. She can and should point out potential ramifications to the president, but it’s his call to decide if he wants to change anything as a result. If he doesn’t, then she needs to drop it.

      1. LPBB*

        I totally agree that it is up to the president. I was just responding to the comment that there could be legal or other ramifications to this situation. If that’s the case and she doesn’t communicate that to the president, then it’s no wonder that he’s not acting on her concerns.

    3. Person who wrote the letter*

      Thanks Kimberlee,
      Good to hear from another Office Manager. You addressed my legal concerns. I am trying to remain compliant with both Fed & state labor laws. The reason I mentioned that other employees seem to notice this employee’s behavior is because I fear someone filing a discrimination law suit. I was concerned with the company overpaying this employee because during my first days on the job my boss told me that part of my job was to find ways to save the company money. Like you said, the OM role is different depending on company and industry. It’s premature to start yelling at someone and say that I am overstepping my boundaries when they don’t know my job description. I wrote a long response to commenters with some clarifications.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Re: concerns that someone might file a discrimination lawsuit: They’d need to be in a protected class that’s different from her own (race/religion/etc.), and they’d need to prove that the reason she got special treatment and they did not was due to that difference in race/religion/etc. If you give all your white employees a flexible schedule, for instance, but not others, you have a discrimination problem. If you give someone a flexible schedule because they’re a 15-year employee or for other reasons unrelated to race/religion/etc., you do not.

        It’s not illegal discrimination to simply treat different people differently — it needs to be linked to race/religion/etc. to be a problem.

        Also, ultimately this is all up to your president. You can make him aware of potential problems, but he makes the call on whether to change anything. You can’t keep pushing it if he chooses not to.

      2. Jamie*

        No one was yelling, I’m not sure why the previous comens are being characterized as such.

        You said in another comment that ou wrote quickly and didn’t wat to say too much, which is fine, but you should understand that people will comment on the content of the original post. Strangers. The internet can’t take into account details which aren’t given, so we reply based on our own judgement and experiences regarding what was stated in the post.

        Clearly a lot of people read your initial post similarly, but that doesn’t mean we were yelling.

        1. Jenn*

          I’m sure she was being figurative, and didn’t mean you were literally yelling at her through your computer screen.

          Unless, of course, you are. ;-)

          1. Jamie*

            I’m not cable of caring enough to yell at a stranger. :)

            I’m sure it was figurative, but it obviously denoted both for the OP and Kimberlee who also said it a less than neutral tone – and people were no more harsh or chastise-y with this than anything else we opine about here, and I felt it was an unfair characterization. Just people offering opinions, that s all it was.

    4. JT*

      “potential legal pitfalls there (in terms of potential discrimination suits, or in terms of differing policies on how accrued time off is paid out when an employee leaves, which is also sometimes governed by state law)”

      Oh come on. Discrimination? Really?

      Actually, it makes sense for companies to discriminate, if the discrimination is about performance.

      How can treating one person who is known to perform well better be legally risky?

      And workers comp? In sales? Really?

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        I’m not saying there’s any illegal discrimination going on. I’m just saying that when you treat one employee substantially differently from others in a way that benefits the employee, you’re opening yourself up to interpretation. Especially if there’s no communicated reason why that person is treated differently, people are free to interpret that treatment however they like. You don’t have to have discriminated against anyone to have to deal with a discrimination claim (which is expensive even if you win!). I’m all about not making rules at work based on an unreasonable fear of discrimination, but it’s not a good idea to just open your company to that potential either.

        And sales people are covered by worker’s comp. Why wouldn’t they be? In fact, outside sales people have higher rates than regular office workers because they’re assumed to travel more. Even if you’re not employed by a company, many states require that contractors be covered by WC, either their own or at the expense of the company that’s paying them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, but I think in this situation there’s an obvious explanation for the special treatment — she’s been there 15 years, was there when the company was founded, has been instrumental in their sales success (even if only earlier on), etc.

        2. JT*

          I’m tired of warnings about tiny legal risk based on weak interpretations of reality.

          And more specifically, if you have 12 employees and you treat one badly and that person is the only person in a protected class (or maybe one of a couple), then yeah, maybe the risk is real.

          But if you have 12 employees and you treat one better, presumably there are others of that same sort (in terms of gender, age, etc) in the remaining eleven. You think that a suit be plausible?

          Suit can be filed for the silliest reasons. That doesn’t mean we should go around spending energy avoiding every silly reason.

          PS – companies actually do treat employees differently in ways that benefit that one employee in terms of pay based on productivity and/or seniority. This is very common.

          “And sales people are covered by worker’s comp. Why wouldn’t they be?”

          What’s the likelihood of it being taken and there being a problem there?

          1. Samantha Jane Bolin*

            It drives me insane when people expect that everyone will be treated exactly equal. No one works exactly equal. Very few jobs in one company are exactly equal. Some people are phenomenal performers and some people are terrible employees. So, who sets the bar? Does everyone suffer to reach the lowest common denominator? Or, do you adjust to the best and those that slack reap the benefits of the hard workers? Some people are great negotiators and are so in demand that they can get themselves a great benefits package. Some people will accept whatever they are offered. That’s the way the world works. And, to be afraid of a lawsuit because you reward your star performers or negotiate to get that phenomenal person will only limit the people you are actually able to employ.

            1. bingo dauber*

              But isn’t it up to the manager to communicate that to their staff? Everyone will assume they are a good employee and high performer until told otherwise, so to have one set of rules for most people and another set for the ‘queen bee’ will cause conflict unless it is clearly spelled out why this person is so special.

              1. Samantha Jane Bolin*

                Yes, the manager should communicate that. People should always know where they stand. Unfortunately, too many managers don’t find managing their staff to be a priority. As we all know, that creates problems.

                And, it’s not about being special or having two sets of “rules.” Here is an example of my friend. She works in a job where she plans a lot of events. Those require her to often be at work at the crack of dawn, work late, weekends, etc. She does what needs to be done. Compare that to someone else who works in her office. She works 8-5 everyday and never misses her lunch, even if she has a lunch meeting and eats in the meeting, she still takes an hour afterwards. Is it having two sets of rules to give my friend some flexibility? Should they really be treated exactly the same?

                There are tons of these examples out there. And, that doesn’t make people special or Queen Bees.

              2. -X-*

                “Everyone will assume they are a good employee and high performer ”

                I don’t. I think I’m OK but not at all sure I deserve more than other people or even the same as other key people.

                And I don’t think I’m alone – search for “imposter syndrome” on this site or elsewhere.

    5. Joey*

      Actually it doesn’t really sound like there are discrimination concerns, at least serious ones. As long as there’s a non discriminatory reason for the different treatment there’s really not a lot to worry about. You shouldn’t be scared to treat people differently when there’s a legitimate non discriminatory reason for it.

      And obviously the company has outweighed any workers comp concerns likely because the risk of injury in her job is low and the cost is minimal.

  23. Steve G*

    We have a few of these types. However, we are in NYC, so some people have 2 hour commutes, so if they only have “paperwork” to do, why commute 4 hours to do it?

    I happen to live very close to Manhattan and me and the other staff that come in every day learned how to sandbag requests or get them answered in the random absences of staff.

    I’m wondering how the work flow is that it would depend so much on sales, coming from a place where sales sells, then the account gets passed over to an Account Manager. So all urgent requests can go to an Acct Mgr….

  24. Person who wrote the letter*

    Thank you Allison for taking your time to answer my question. I sincerely appreciate your response.

    I just wanted to clarify a few things for those commenting. I wrote the letter in a hurry and didn’t want to write too much.

    1. She’s in a desk inside sales position. Inside sales people at our company don’t travel much at all. Perhaps once a year at most. I book their flights and hotel reservations too so I’m aware.

    2. Company is still small enough that it’s visible that everyone comes in on time including all other top performers & senior staff. We’re in a small building so it’s obvious when someone walks in late.

    3. I didn’t directly offer her a schedule. When I had a meeting with the boss regarding this long ago, I told him the reason I brought up the issue was because it made calculating PTO difficult for me. I could accurately calculate everyone’s PTO except hers because I don’t know if she’s using a PTO day or what’s going on. He asked me to suggest a solution. I told him that maybe she had a health problem or something we didn’t know about and just needs to come in later. I suggested some different hours because he asked me for my opinion. He had a discussion with her and let me know her work hours changed to what I had suggested. I now realize that it should have been the other way around. He should have suggested the hours and he should give me clear expectations how he wants his staff to take time off. If he doesn’t want me to calculate her PTO and wants to grant her special treatment then that’s fine because it’s his business. He has not verbally told me that he’s granted her a flexible schedule. Maybe he told her that it was OK for her to work from home but I’m not aware. Processing payroll accurately is what’s most important to me. I want to convey that message to the boss without sounding like I have some personal resentment towards the employee. Unlike the rest of the staff, I don’t participate in immature name calling.

    4. Lastly, I said that she was a successful sales person. I meant in the past not in the present tense. She has not acquired any major accounts besides the one account that I mentioned in the letter. I know because I include commissions with each pay period. She has not showed up for onsite meetings with important clients or has been late on multiple occasions. I usually say she had an emergency and couldn’t make it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, this is helpful context to have. I would say to:

      1. Stop pushing to have her follow the rules, and simply explain to your boss what the potential ramifications are if she doesn’t, and ask how he’d like those handled. Don’t say this with a tone of “it’s a problem because she won’t follow the rules” — say it with a tone of “here’s the situation, what’s your preference for how I proceed?” If he says he’s not too concerned about any possible ramifications, then so be it — that’s his call. Your job is to bring it to his attention and his job is to make the call, and then you just move forward.

      2. Keep in mind that it’s not up to you to judge her performance. It’s her manager’s job. However, if she’s missing meetings with clients, then ask your boss how you should handle it when a client arrives to meet with her and she’s not there. Keep the judgment out of it; the question itself conveys all that needs to be conveyed.

      1. Person who wrote the letter*

        Thank you Allison. I will proceed as you suggest :-D
        I agree with you 100% . If I leave out my personal judgement then I will be able to do my job better.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I became concerned when you said in your question: ” When he is out of town, she does not show up and emails me after lunch, telling me something came up and will work from home.”

          This only happens when he is out of town? She does not do that when he is around?
          I think since she is his direct report- she should email him with a note about her absence or tardiness. Since she is not under your watch there is nothing you can do about it. To have her report (email) to you, does not make sense.

          This would help to lift some of the discomfort you are having. Alison’s advice (points 1 and 2) will work- it may take time. And requires your consistency in following the format: “X is happening. How would you like me to handle it?” If there are legal implications be sure to add “In order to be compliant with the law, I need information A, B and C.”

          I am sensing that he has left too much up to you that is beyond your scope of authority. I think this was done in total innocence on his part. This type of questioning will help with that overarching problem.

    2. fposte*

      OP, it sounds like the problems she causes for you may be the least of management’s worries about her, and it also sounds like management really doesn’t want to face those worries. I might mentally recategorize her PTO as out of your control and consider that you’ve done what you can be keeping the books clean on everybody else’s.

    3. Steve G*

      Doesn’t show up to her own meetings?!???! What if there is no one else capable of running them??!!

    4. Anonymous*

      Inside sales could also mean non-exempt FLSA classification. If that’s the case, it could also be difficult to determine if overtime wages need to be paid or not. I’m not certain, but if a person isn’t dealt with properly for FLSA, doesn’t that come back on not just the company but the people involved with the processing? I struggle with our sales people on this a lot. They want to work more hours so they can earn more commission, but they don’t want to track them and our company prefers not to pay overtime. In my case at least, they would be outside sales if it weren’t for remote technologies, so I do understand the frustration.

  25. MadHatter*

    We haven’t heard back from the OP, but it could be the company is a government contractor. If the employee is not filling out her timesheet in a timely manner, she is breaking federal law and could be arrested and also lose the company the ability to continue to work for the government. I have been in the OPs shoes when working for a contractor, and it is not fun. You are viewed as the evil nitpicker, when you are only trying to protect the company. I personally couldn’t give a flying squirrel if people come in on time, but they darn well better document it in a timely manner.

  26. Jesicka309*

    From a low level employees perspective, it can be a bit demoralising.
    The head of our department is rarely in the office. While I know she spends a lot of time traveling interstate for the company, it’s a little disheartening. You want your boss to know who you are, to be around occasionally to see your work, to have a chance to actually utilise that “open door” policy. I did feel a bit disgruntled until I was trained to cover her personal assistant, and found she lives interstate! She flies in Monday morning, flies out again later in the week, and works from her house interstate on a Friday. I felt bad that I’d felt disgruntled. She’s obviously making a huge sacrifice to work interstate away from her family.
    Sometimes a little communication can make everything a bit easier on everyone.

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