should we contact an employee’s wife about our concerns for his health?

A reader writes:

Would it be wise to talk to an employee’s spouse regarding our (company) concern for his health, both physical and mental? It is leaking over to his job.

He is convinced he has every ailment and is sure he is dying. He has become a shell of a man that he used to be — obsessed about his health, constantly going to the doctor and telling them what he thinks is wrong based upon research he has done on the internet, what I would consider over-the-top obsessed and maybe needs psychological evaluation.

We were hoping for his wife’s insight, thoughts and concerns.

I’m not going to say that there’s absolutely no set of circumstances where it would be appropriate to contact an employee’s spouse with health concerns about them, but I’m having trouble thinking of one. In every case I can think of where you’re concerned about an employee’s health, you should be talking to the employee directly, not going around them to talk to their family instead.

And in this case, it sounds like it’s pretty impossible that his wife wouldn’t be seeing the same behaviors that you are, so she’s aware of it.

While you clearly care about your employee as a person, it’s not your place to delve into his medical or psychological issues. However, if it’s becoming a distraction at work or affecting his performance, you can certainly talk with him about those things — but the focus should be on the impact on the workplace, not what you see as his hypochondria.

(That said, if you have an EAP, you can certainly refer him to it.)

But that’s a discussion between you and the employee, not his wife.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. JMegan*

    I agree with Alison. I can guarantee, 100%, that his wife knows about his behaviour – if he’s acting like this at work, he’s also doing it at home, right? So she’s already worried about him, and probably already doing everything she can to help.

    When my ex-husband was drinking, a number of his friends tried to contact me for my “insights, thoughts, and concerns.” And all I could think was that I had enough on my plate with my own worries about him, not to mention trying to raising my children in this environment. I didn’t have any insights into the situation, and I couldn’t reassure them that everything was going to be alright, because I didn’t know myself how it would turn out.

    And I definitely couldn’t sit down and discuss their worries – my own worries were big enough that I had to draw some pretty firm boundaries around them, and there was no way I was going to take on anyone else’s. So although I appreciated their concern in theory, I found that type of contact to be more intrusive than anything else.

    There are lots of ways to help your colleague, but please please leave his wife out of it – she’s already dealing with it to the extent of her ability.

  2. KarenT*

    Agree with Alison completely. If he’s that obsessed, I promise his wife already knows. I don’t think you’ve got anything to gain by having that conversation with her.

    I also think you should suggest counselling to him. Referring him to an EAP as Alison suggested would be a great thing to do.

  3. Lillie Lane*

    My spouse is a hypochondriac, too (not to the extent of the letter, but I have to hear about it every day). If his boss contacted me, my first thought would be “What do you want me to do about it?” After rehashing the possibilities of what each lump, pain, skin malady, bowel movement consistency/frequency/coloration/contents might be, I have no power to convince him that he’s not dying. Trust me, she knows. And unless she can convince him to get psychological assistance, there is really nothing she can do.

    1. Anonicorn*

      If his boss contacted me, my first thought would be “What do you want me to do about it?”

      Exactly. It would seem so strange, like a school calling a parent about a sick child. I would certainly want my husband’s employer to inform me of a medical emergency or dire crisis situation, but beyond that no way. It’s his job and he’s responsible for his behavior while he’s there.

    2. LPBB*

      My boyfriend is developing some hypochondria/health anxiety, probably because of some internal and external stressors like someone mentioned downthread.

      Like you said, the spouse knows and the spouse has or is probably doing everything she can to allay his anxiety. I listen, commiserate, research various health issues, and constantly urge my boyfriend to go to a doctor. But short of binding him up with duct tape and physically taking him to the doctor myself (or a therapist and making him actually talk out his issues), I don’t know what else there is for me to do.

      Contacting me, even just for “insight,” would just add another layer of stress and frustration onto an already stressful and frustrating situation. If you have specific concerns about his job performance, address them with the employee and realize that what you are hearing at work is probably only a small part of what his wife is already dealing with at home.

    3. Annie O'Nymous*

      I hear you. Have been in the same position. And you’re right–there’s nothing you can do to change their behavior.

      However, I agree with the others who say, if it’s affecting his job performance, the manager needs to step in and have a talk with him. And definitely recommend EAP.

      1. hunny*

        Like you said, the spouse knows and the spouse has or is probably doing everything she can to allay his anxiety. I listen, commiserate, research various health issues, and constantly urge my boyfriend to go to a doctor. But short of binding him up with duct tape and physically taking him to the doctor myself (or a therapist [url=][/url] else there is for me to do.

        Contacting me, even just for “insight,” would just add another layer of stress and frustration onto an already stressful and frustrating situation. If you have specific concerns about his job performance, address them with the employee and realize that what you are hearing at work is probably only a small part of what his wife is already dealing with at home.

  4. Marmite*

    “I’m not going to say that there’s absolutely no set of circumstances where it would be appropriate to contact an employee’s spouse with health concerns about them, but I’m having trouble thinking of one.”

    Perhaps in the case of an employee who may be thinking of suicide? Even then, I would think you would talk to the employee first, but I could see contacting a family member if after that you felt the employee’s life may be in danger.

      1. Pussyfooter*

        Is this the right place to contact if the person is talking/thinking about suicide but not *attempting* it right there at work?
        I’m embarrassed that after all my mental health talk on this blog, I’ve never thought of “what if someone else at work was showing signs of being suicidal?” …Sure tell the boss, but what if the boss is out or when I’m the boss…

        I thought emergency (in the US) services only insist on caring for someone who is actively trying to harm themself. Otherwise, don’t they have to walk away if the person doesn’t want their input?

        What would you all do?

        1. COT*

          As you may know, one key indicator of suicide risk is having a plan as to how/when/where they would do it. That’s a sign that you should have heightened awareness about their risk.

          If I were in that situation, I’d call a mental-health crisis hotline to talk through the situation. Sometimes speaking with family members may be merited, sometimes 911 may be merited, sometimes there’s another option like a mobile intervention team trained specifically to come connect with people in a time of mental health crisis.

          It’s true that unless you can prove that the person is an active danger to themselves or others, they usually can’t be treated or detained against their will. That can be a very tough situation to witness–someone clearly suffering from illness but not able/willing to consent to help.

          1. dejavu2*

            Well, I would say it’s a judgment call, but generally speaking, it is appropriate to call 911 if you think someone is seriously contemplating suicide. Typically, police officers will be dispatched to do a “wellness check.” The efficacy of this will vary based on how competent/well-trained the cops are, how willing the person is to cooperate, etc. If the police determine the person is suicidal, depending on your state, the person will probably be involuntarily committed for something like 24-48 hours during which they will receive psychiatric treatment.

            1. Chinook*

              If you believe someone is suicidal, first talk to them and make sure they are okay. For myself, my darkest moments came when I thought I was honestly alone and even a stranger’s interaction made the difference.

              If, after talking to them, you still feel that they may be a danger to themselves, call 911 and explain to the operator what is going on. I don’t know how it is in the U.S., but the police in Canada do have the authority to take someone into custody if they are a danger to themselves. DH has spent many long hours in the ER waiting rooms with someone he is bringing in for a mental health check. Some of them are obviously in need of help (think not taking care of personal hygience in any way, shape or form) while others look okay to outsiders and can carry on a “sane” conversation but also have a plan to kill themselves once they are left unattended. He has been trained to deal with all people in his custody as “clients” and will treat them with the respect they need until they are admitted under doctor’s care.

              Remember that first responders often respond to the results of suicides and suicide attempts and they would much prefer to stop someone before they start.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          PF– Years ago, my aunt had a boss that was thinking/talking about suicide. Added layer of complexity, the boss was not an easy woman to work for and my aunt was on the timid side.
          My aunt went home and thought about it. She realized she had to do something. She collected up info on suicide prevention and found an 800 number. It took guts for her to walk into the boss’ office and present this information. She left the office that morning not even knowing if she still had a job.

          Long story made short – the difficult boss became a good friend to my aunt. Apparently, my aunt was the only person who gave a hoot what was going on with the lady. Turned out the boss called the number and got herself some help. The boss’ life did not get easier for her but the boss seemed to have more ability to cope with all the goings-on.

          I have another more recent story about two co-workers. My friend intervened with his coworker in a similar manner as my aunt did. That one did not end well. But at least my friend understood before hand and took action. And he will always be able to say “I tried to do something to help.”

      2. Marmite*

        I’m in the UK, so perhaps this is a cultural difference, but I wouldn’t call 999 (our 911) unless that person was actively trying to hurt themselves/threatening to hurt themselves immediately. Sure, if someone told me they’d been having suicidal thoughts I’d offer to help them find appropriate medical care (including traveling to a hospital with them), but 999 is supposed to be reserved for emergencies, i.e. people who’s life is in immediate danger if they don’t receive prompt medical assistance.

        In my above comment I was thinking more of an employee who you know to be experiencing suicidal thoughts and think may be in danger of taking their life at some point, but not an employee who is attempting/threatening suicide in the present moment.

        It’s a tricky though. For example, what do you do if they have no close family or friends to contact?

        It’s not a situation I’ve ever come across, I was just thinking about Alison’s comment of whether or not there is ever a time it’s appropriate to contact a family member about an employees health. Short of someone being injured/taken ill at work this was the only thing that came to mind.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          Sorry, no sleep=forgot about my own question up-thread:

          Thanks for offering up ideas to address a suicidal-ideation-with-no-attempt kind of situation. I did not know that some police forces do “wellness checks”–good to know. (Though I would ask 911 before assuming that in Arizona.)
          And I really like HR’s suggestion somewhere else in this post: send on medical leave and they can’t return without a doctor’s note (usually better for other mental health probs than suicide, but could work in some cases).

          I guess since the one person I’ve tried to help about this was quite demanding–may even have been faking it–and I now think had a pretty hard-core case of Personality Disorder, I’ve been thinking all the help I found was inadequate…..but most suicidal people don’t have her particular problem (*she* was the least cooperative player in that situation).
          So I need to remember to talk to a different person–not avoid them as though they are copies of her.

    1. Jessa*

      NO, absolutely not no no no. I can’t say that stronger than NO. What if the significant other/family member is the REASON, the abuser, the bully, or the cause of the depression/suicidal thoughts. You think someone is contemplating suicide call a PROFESSIONAL. Please don’t call someone who may be involved in the chain of events leading UP to the issue. You have no idea WHY someone is contemplating what they are contemplating.

  5. dejavu2*

    My ex-partner had serious mental illness issues. Her co-workers saw a fraction of it. Her boss actually called me on the phone to “tell” me about it. It was deeply frustrating, because I knew way more about it, was impacted by it much more deeply, and found the supervisor’s “insights” both naive and besides the point. It felt like a stranger inserting themselves in my most personal, most deeply stressful experience.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Bingo. People have no clue how naive they sound when they try to describe things to the ones who live with the person. This goes for extended family talking about someone who lives under the same roof as the listener.

      A good rule of thumb: Whatever you see at work- it is probably three times as bad at home.

  6. some1*

    Yeah, talk to the employee, not his wife. Really, if he was single, what would you do, call his parents?

    I think it’s great that you have a genuine concern, but I would be mortified if my boss or co-worker did this.

  7. fposte*

    Health anxiety is a really common and debilitating kind of anxiety. There’s a vigorous and informative British-based forum here at

    (As the domain suggests, it’s about anxiety generally, so there’s good stuff there about other kinds, too; it just has a particularly strong health anxiety section.)

      1. fposte*

        Could be; I don’t know them. But the forum users still seem to find it pretty valuable.

  8. Ruffingit*

    There is nothing contacting his wife is going to do here. Basically, the co-workers are either concerned for the mental well-being of the man himself, concerned that his work product is slipping, or both. And either of those concerns is not going to be alleviated by calling his wife because the answer to this situation lies in the man getting competent psychological help for his problem and only he can be the one to initiate that.

    So, Alison’s advice is exactly right. Talk to HIM. It’s amazing to me how many people want to circumvent the person who can really help to go to people who cannot do anything about the problem. Talk TO the problem, not around it and you’ll get better results.

    1. Jessa*

      Yes, and if this is a work product issue, address the work product issue. If this is a Chatty Cathy/Carl issue, address it as an interfering with the work of others issue. It’s not necessarily your job to deal with the underlying hypocondria either. You can offer an EAP if your company has one, you can offer leave if your employee has that available and they might need it, but your job really is about the job. It might even make the employee think for a moment that for once in their life someone is talking to them about their WORK and not their illness. I’m not going to get into whether they are or are not actually sick at the time you talk to them. But there may come a time where the discussion has to go “I’m sorry that you’re not feeling well Sam, but at this point, you need to have THAT talk with your Doctor. I need to talk to you about work.”

  9. Colette*

    I can see reaching out to a spouse if the health issue is memory related (like you suspect dementia or after-effects from a concussion) – something where talking to the coworker will not work because they may not remember it, and where the spouse may not have seen the same behavior.

    Other than that, I agree you should talk with the employee directly – and, if you have the appropriate relationship, suggest that they talk with a professional about the struggles they’re having.

    1. jmkenrick*

      Yeah, I agree with this. I think there are certain situations where basic human caring would require that you reach out to the spouse…but I can’t imagine any that would come up very often.

      1. T (formerly in Construction)*

        Also, I could see contacting the spouse/emergency contact if you felt the coworker was loosing his hearing. This happened with my dad — one of the coworkers picked up on the fact my dad wasn’t hearing and called my mom about it. Since my mom had been concerned but was unsure, this helped convince her that my dad needed to see a ENT about hearing loss.

    2. V*

      I agree that there are certain appropriate situations, but even them I think the first conversation needs to be with the employee.

      1. Chinook*

        I think memory issues should be the exception to the rule because we are with our coworkers throughout the day and we can probably notice that change, especially sundowning, more obviously than family members who see them only in the evening. But, I would want to approach the coworker first because this may be a problem they are already aware of and have chosen not to disclose at work.

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh memory or disorientation because the worker might not remember it. Also if a worker came in disoriented, I would not necessarily want them driving home, I’d be worried about them getting hurt and I’d be frankly worried about liability if we (the company) let them drive. I’d call and check to see if they’d well got into an injury over the weekend or something and were okay to drive. And honestly if they had a job driving for me I’d insist on a medical check. Because well, liability (as the kids phrase things.)

    3. Marmite*

      I hadn’t thought of this, and it’s a great point. Particularly as our minds can play tricks on us and people with early signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s, even brain tumours can genuinely not realize they are behaving in anyway out of the ordinary. In that case contacting a family member could be very helpful as the employee themselves may dismiss symptoms that their mind is hiding from.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    Mercifully, when I have had a sick family member the boss NEVER called me.
    That would have reduced me to tears.

    I would like to say this to anyone facing this situation:
    Please do not call me unless you have already had to call an ambulance. There is no point. I can tell three stories for every one story you tell about my ill family member.

    If I could get him/her to get treatment – I would have done so by now. We are dealing with a person who is not taking charge of their circumstance.

    Talk to my family member. Expression concern: “XYZ used to be easy for you, now we are seeing difficulty. We are worried about you.” If their work is suffering, ask them to develop a game plan to remedy the situation. Maybe give them a few days to hammer out that game plan. “I will check with you on Friday to see how you plan to remedy these work issues.” Tell them it is a quality of life issue. Anything that impacts their life also impacts their work.

    Be assured that the employee went home and told someone that he was spoken to at work.

    As a family member what I need from the employer is for the employer just to be a good boss. This sometimes means having direct conversations which are difficult. The key here is the “second voice” saying “Gee, I think something is bothering you and I think you should have it checked.” My voice alone is not enough to motivate this person into action.

        1. Jessa*

          Especially since the boss has a well larger I don’t want to call it a “weapon” but I can’t think of another word, to induce action. “This is impacting your work Sam, you have done x which is disruptive or have not done x necessary task. How can we fix this. This needs to be fixed by x date.” And make plans. Because the boss can take it away from the health thing and make it about the WORK thing.

          And either that means Sam gets medical help because they need to fix the health thing to work. Or Sam gets documentation of an actual ongoing thing because they need FMLA leave (if they qualify) or a reasonable accommodation. But either way Sam gets moved towards talking to professionals.

          Because if Sam says “X is happening because of Y illness,” the boss’s follow up is, “I understand, but in order to accommodate this, I need documentation for the file explaining what accommodations you will need.” And again Sam is back to speaking to a professional. Because nowhere in the law does it say that the company doesn’t get to ask for proof before it spends money to accommodate someone.

  11. Lily in NYC*

    My sister had to do this with her boss (the head of a huge federal agency) and it was awful. It was obvious to everyone he had undiagnosed Parkinson’s and he started suffering from Sundowners Syndrome and behaving innaproprately with women (he kissed employees on the lips). She spoke to his wife and she completely blew my sister off. She was 30 years younger than the guy and just couldn’t be bothered. She then spoke to the son and he took it a little more seriously but didn’t do anything. The poor man ended up getting removed from his post after an FBI investigation and it was so humiliating for him. The fiasco could have been avoided if someone in his family had actually listened to my sister’s concerns.

    1. JMegan*

      I’d be more inclined to interpret his family’s actions as “already using up all their bandwidth on this”, rather than “couldn’t be bothered.” If something is that obvious to everyone at work, it’s likely already obvious to everyone at home too. His wife and son probably already knew what was going on, and if they blew your sister off it might have been because they had already tried everything they could think of to help and he wasn’t listening.

      The only way the fiasco could have been avoided would be if the man himself had sought treatment. His family doesn’t bear any more responsibility in this than your sister, or his dog walker’s next door neighbour’s best friend’s cousin – nobody can make another person get help if that person doesn’t want the help.

      1. anon*

        If he’s sexually assaulting women then there’s a pretty good basis for “a danger to himself or others” needed for involuntary hospitalization.

        1. JMegan*

          I don’t know that committing sexual assault necessarily leads to involuntary hospitalization – and my guess would be that that was not the subject of the FBI investigation in any case.

          My point was that the man’s wife is not responsible for his behaviour, or for the outcome of his behaviour. We don’t know what actions she took, or didn’t take, that Lily’s sister wasn’t aware of, and either way she probably couldn’t have stopped him from doing whatever it was he did that got the FBI involved. To say the whole thing could have been avoided if only SHE had done something differently, is to put a whole lot of responsibility on her that should really have been put on him.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            JMegan, that absolutely was what the FBI was investigating. It’s a federal agency and he was the head of it – the Investigator General and Congress actually got involved. It was a big deal and his wife completely washed her hands of it. My sister wasn’t calling her to talk about his possible diagnosis, but to let her know that he was behaving oddly and that shit was about to go down if something wasn’t done. She just said, “sorry, I’m in Vegas”.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              What a [insert whatever you want to insert here]. There is no way I’d do that if my husband were having health problems that serious.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        His son lived across the country and is not close to the family. His wife had a young boyfriend and did not want to deal – she was always in Vegas gambling. There so so much more to this crazy story but I am not up to writing a novel here. It actually received quite a bit of press because of where it happened. My sister had a respsonsibility to stop him from kissing women and trapping them in his office because she is the #2 person at this agency and people were coming to her for help. She was doing her job.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          So many boundaries crossed here I don’t know where to begin.

          However, your sister tried her best to prevent a train wreck of a situation. It’s one of those times where the situation is bigger than one person. The man probably required a team of people to take care of him. And your sis was trying to do it alone. What a nightmare.

  12. HR Manager*

    I’ve had a similar situation in the past, but we put the employee on a medical leave and told them they couldn’t come back until they had been cleared to work by a medical professional.

  13. Brton3*

    I am struck by how often people write in with questions or problems to which the solution is, talk to the person involved. Don’t escalate it to her manager, don’t call her husband, don’t ask her former coworker at job X, don’t ignore it and hope it goes away, don’t gossip about it, don’t complain impotently, don’t cover it up or take evasive action. Talk to the person.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I feel like we see that in all areas of life! My mom, for example, sometimes talks to me about something she’s concerned about with my sister. My response is usually, “Have you talked to her about it?” and usually the answer is no. It’s baffling. (And my mom is someone who’s usually reasonably direct.)

      1. Anonymous*

        Is she sounding out her concerns, or asking you for the answer? I don’t mean to pry, I am curious. I often talk things through with an invested third party so I know not just what to say but how to say it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I think people are scared to talk to the person they’re having a problem with. Either they fear confrontation, or they’re worried they’re doing the wrong thing. So they bounce it off another person first, to get reassurance.

    2. nyxalinth*

      Sometimes people know the right thing to do, but can’t bring themselves to be the one to do it. So they either put it out there hoping someone will solve the problem for them, or that the person they talk to can shore them up enough to do it themselves. Sometimes, it’s just venting.

  14. Paulina*

    I once supervised a young woman with severe mental health issues. I kept trying to address her job-performance problems by talking with her, writing her up when she verbally abused a fellow employee, and after a particularly bad incident, went to my boss to start the dismissal process. He told me no, saying since the job problems were caused by mental issues, she was protected by the ADA. I thought he was wrong, still do, but what do think, AAM?

    1. anon*

      ADA mandates reasonable accommodation. If the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the job, is threatening to other coworkers, or otherwise actually not safe at the place of employment, ADA doesn’t require you to keep them on.

      I’m curious what this “particularly bad incident” was, if you’re able to give details?

      1. Paulina*

        It was at a library. She had her arms full of books when a couple of other employees stopped her to as a question. She utterly lost it; she started yelling that she’d already answered that question, was tired of how nobody but her could g-d think anything through, why did she have to do everybody’s job, etc. That was bad, but then she started throwing the books wildly around the hall. The other employees tried to calm her down, which just made it worse I heard the ruckus and came running down the stairs. When she saw me she locked herself in the nearest office. She refused to come out while I was there. All we could do was call her husband to take her home. She turned up the next day as if nothing had happened.

      2. HR Manager*

        What you had there was a mental health issue not a discipline issue. Truly if someone if not well then discipline has no affect because they lack the capacity to have insight into their behavior or if they have insight may not be able to change without professional help.

        In Canada the duty to accommodate places a far greater burden on the employer. However, it doesn’t mean we have to keep the employee in the work place. We can place them on a forced sick leave, and refuse to let them return to work until they seek treatment and/or cleared by a medical professional.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Your boss doesn’t understand the ADA. The ADA requires reasonable accommodation, but doesn’t require the employer to take on “undue hardship” or to keep someone who can’t sufficiently perform the essential functions of the position. I can’t imagine a case where you’d be required by the ADA to keep an employee who did what you described here.

  15. Anonymous*

    I would have appreciated someone touching base with me. There was a lot of pain that could have been avoided. It wasn’t their responsibility, but it would have made a big difference. I don’t fault anyone for not doing so, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that it would have helped.

  16. Elle D*

    OP – This type of health anxiety actually something I am slowly learning to cope with now. I had some stressful personal issues begin a few months back, and health anxiety/hypochondria is how the stress chose to manifest in me. I had horrible, debilitating anxiety and some days I would just lay in bed all day positive I was dying. I also left work early a few times to urgently see the doctor. I still deal with this now, but therapy, low dose anti-anxiety medications and time passing since the personal issues have helped substantially so it no longer affects my work performance.

    If your employee is feeling anything like how I felt, believe me, his spouse is already aware and is just as frustrated as you are – I know my family members and friends were all frustrated, but unfortunately there was nothing they could do or say to change my thought patterns. His wife is unlikely to have any more insight than you do.

    I strongly suggest following AAM’s advice in this situation. If during your conversation about his performance he is insistent that he is suffering from medical ailments X, Y, and Z, you could try saying something like “Joe, dealing with those symptoms would be a lot for anyone to handle – Maybe you should ask your doctors for advice on how to cope with the stress.” This indirectly suggests that he needs to seek help for his anxiety, without being completely dismissive of the symptoms he believes he is experiencing. I know when people were dismissive of me, it would only make me more hysterical and stressed since I felt like I was dealing with it alone.

    Good luck, OP, and I hope your employee does seek help for his anxiety and is back to his old self soon.

  17. nyxalinth*

    When I was a kid,, from kindergarten until 4th grade, I showed signs of ADD and also, I was hypersensitive to teasing, etc. I would cry if someone looked at me wrong (Part of this was due to my mom being verbally and emotionally abusive due to Bipolar I, part of it just seemed to be my nature). Teachers constantly called her to tell her what a crybaby I was, and how something was wrong with me, I needed help, etc. As you can imagine, it didn’t go over well, nor did I get any help.

    The point of this is, if someone called my partner or room mate or whomever about XYZ going on with my life, unless it was immediately life-threatening, I would flash back to those ‘tattling teachers getting me in worse trouble’ and have a very poor view of my employers afterwards.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I never got any help with my learning disability either. Instead, the other kids (and a few teachers) would pick at me until I lost my temper and then I got in trouble. Then I got in trouble at home (back in the day, when parents actually parented). One of my teachers was abusive, but I never told my parents until high school and then they were appalled. I didn’t say anything because she was the teacher–how could I possibly fight her? How’s a ten-year-old supposd to know what to do? :P

  18. Laura*

    This is one of those situations where the intentions are good, but it’s just not a good idea.

    I had an employee once who was having severe personal issues, and it culminated in my having to fire him. This all played out over the course of a few months, and I wished there was some way for me to call his wife and let her know that unless her husband got his sh*t together he was going to find himself out of a job…just because I had told the employee this same thing, and it had zero effect on his job performance.

    Obviously I never called his wife, because there was no appropriate way to do it, and even if there had been, she probably already knew it anyway.

    With this guy it was someone I considered a friend, and he really was in the midst in a huge amount of turmoil. So for me it was in the context of trying to whatever I could think of to help a friend.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This happened to me once, but I was the employee. I tried to make it work, but was unable and ended up losing the job. My friend had to do what she had to do. I didn’t blame her–and still don’t. After I got out of there, I was able to get my sh*t together, found another job quickly, and everything is fine now.

      As with me, your employee had to gird his loins and do whatever he could to get himself together, be that taking a leave, quitting, or whatever. I hope it helped him not to have so much to deal with. I know that must have been frustrating for you, though.

  19. Kou*

    I wouldn’t immediately assume this is all in his head, either. Before I discovered the roots of my health issues, I spent years being sick and panicking about not being able to fix it– seeing different doctors and doing research and thinking everything sounded like it could be the right answer. And my panic came entirely from my concern about my work. I was afraid that if I didn’t figure it out and fix it, I wouldn’t be able to hold a job.

    People are quick to say it’s mental health, but the thing is that feeling bad and not knowing why is scary. It will make you anxious and paranoid all on its own.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I would be inclined to believe there is something going on with the guy. Very few people actually want a life of medical drama. (yeah, that’s a disease, too.) I would read the statement at face value: Something is going on with him and he has great difficulty finding answers.

  20. Lily in NYC*

    Elizabeth, I felt really bad for the guy even though he was acting inappropriately. I just can’t imagine myself being so callous in the same situation (if I were the wife). The sundowners syndrome magnified his cognitive issues and he really couldn’t help himself. It broke my heart that he didn’t have anyone that cared enough to help him before it got to the point it did.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I just tried to reply to Elizabeth West’s comment above but somehow made a new one. Sorry!

  21. Esther*

    Several years ago my father’s work called my mother to report their concerns about his health. He was getting lost in the aisles (he worked at a hardware store), could not remember where items were located and asked coworkers to “point him in the direction of home” as he drove out of the parking lot.

    We now know he has dementia. My mother did not realize it at the time because at home he wasn’t confused and never told his family he was having trouble finding his way home by car. I’m so glad his workplace took the more dignified and caring route to handle this by calling my mother instead of just firing my dad without expressing their concerns.

    1. COT*

      I think memory issues are one area in which people can sometimes hide their symptoms at home (or family members may overlook or dismiss them) for a while. This is definitely one area where caring intervention with both the affected person and their family might be called for.

      1. Jessa*

        Yes because home is SO familiar they have very good coping mechanisms, home rarely changes and they’ve usually been there for years.

  22. Anon*

    So here’s a similar question I’ve always wondered about. I once worked for an organization that was closely connected with a particular church, but legally separate and secular. About half the employees of the organization were members of the church, and the other half of us were specialists in the type of work the org was doing.

    My direct manager at the time was a member of the church, which forbade medical care in the vast majority of circumstances. She clearly suffered from what I could best describe as some kind of seizure disorder – she would have uncontrolled neurological twitches that, over the course of a day, usually led to a full grand mal seizure. On bad days, she would fall out of chairs, collapse in hallways, and on a few occasions further injured herself by falling.

    Because of the pervasive culture of the organization, tied so strongly to this church, no one ever said a single word about any of these problems. She simply disappeared from work for a day or two or three after an episode. There was no official policy. As far as I know she was never spoken to. Those of us in her department, who worked with her directly – and who were not members of the church – basically lived in agony waiting to see whether she would have problems from one day to the next.

    I’ve long since moved on, thankfully, but I’ve always wondered if I had some kind of responsibility to say something to her, or to upper management. Because of the incredibly strong culture of silence about medical care, I never did, nor did any of my coworkers. She was unbelievably good at her job and great to work with – except for this area of total silence that left us in more or less constant fear and anxiety.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I hereby resolve you. Go in peace. I don’t think you had any obligation to say anything. What would you have said? The management was clearly aware of and accommodating to her condition so you weren’t telling them anything they didn’t already know and the same is true for her. She clearly knew she had a major medical problem and made the conscious choice not to treat it. Nothing you could say to her would have dissuaded her most likely.

      I think you can give yourself a pass on this one. With the kind of environment you were working in, it’s likely it wouldn’t have been taken kindly for you to suggest medical treatment.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Wow. What if something happened to a non-church member? Would they call an ambulance for that person?

      I think the big clue here is where you say it was legally separate and secular. You’d almost need an attorney to sort this one out.

      Please say she didn’t drive…..

      1. Anon*

        Having something happen to me or a friend was always a worry for me at that place. I basically made a pact with a few non-members I worked with regularly that they would call 911 for me. I did have emergency surgery while working there – went to the ER one evening, in surgery the next day – and while obviously I called in sick and kept them updated during the 2 weeks of my recovery I never got a single word of acknowledgement from anyone that I’d been ill or in the hospital, except from 2-3 close friends who were not church members.

        She did not drive, but on days when she’d had an episode it wasn’t uncommon for her to take public transportation home. I always worried about that – what if she continued to seize up on the bus or the train?

        It was one of the more stressful working environments of my life, for that and many other reasons.

  23. Jessa*

    I’m with Alison on this one, the only time to discuss an employee’s health with their family or spouse is if you have just had to call an ambulance for them and are calling to explain this. Or if they have just been sent home ill and you’re calling on their behalf so their significant other/family aren’t shocked when OMG Sam walks in the door at 3 pm instead of 1am and they don’t think the house is being robbed.

    Or MAYBE if you know Sam is diabetic (or other controlled thing) and it’s obvious they’re in trouble and you can TELL they’re dead out of their medication and you know their s/o has a back up and you call and go Pat, Sam’s insulin pen (inhaler, whatever?) just gave out should I take Sam to hospital or can you get here with another one faster cause you live 5 minutes away?

    The point is the only time you call someone else about the health of an employee is either if you know them of if you have a valid medical reason to notify them of something emergent.

  24. AnoninPA*

    I can relate to this thread. My husband has severe issues with anxiety, OCD and depression that have become much, MUCH worse over the past year. From what I gather he’s been holding it together better at work than at home. If his boss or a co-worker contacted me I would react in one of two ways 1) Thinking – well now I know he isn’t keeping it together at work like I thought he was. I would talk with him and call his counselor and try to switch the focus of his therapy to his reactions at work (because we really need the pay check.) That said, it’s nothing that can be fixed unless he works on it. 2) Get really really stressed out. (I know that I would do the first option regardless) but hearing from my husband’s co-workers/boss would just add in another layer of stress to an already completely and totally stressful situation. I echo other people’s posts that say – the wife already knows what is going on and is trying to deal with it.

  25. Bystander*

    I agree with not contacting the wife. He is not a child. Consider if he has always been like this. Also, take a look at his job – are their parts of his job that is causing him stress that may be contributing to his odd behaviour? Stress and anxiety can do a lot to a person. Also, with all due respect, some bosses tend to blame everything on an employees personal life, keeping in mind we spend most of our days at work. You could have a meeting with him and discuss his job duties and performance and see what areas you can help each other understand better and perform, maybe he needs some help and most people don’t like to ask for help. If you have an EAP program for counselling sounds like a good suggestion for him to talk out his problems with.

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