my manager uses IM to monitor me, my coworker complains about my schedule, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My manager uses IM to monitor me

I hate work instant-messaging. My manager uses IM as a time tracker for me and sets alerts to let him know when I’m away and when I’m back (even though I sit in front of him in a half-cube). I’m a senior manager at a large corporation – aren’t I paid to do the job? I do my job well and get kudos from coworkers regularly. I volunteer for more work or to help team mates when my workload is light.

My manager has already confronted me once for being away from my desk too much or coming back from lunch five minutes late. This isn’t an hourly position and when a project warrants, I work through lunch or whatever is required to deliver on schedule. Basically, I’m a responsible grown-up. Is IM the new punch clock? And as a salaried employee, should I worry?

This is a problem with your manager, not with IM. I’d say this to him: “I’m meeting all my goals and excelling at X and Y. Have I given you reason to worry that I won’t manage my own time well?”

But someone who treats a senior person like this? Doesn’t bode well for your quality of life there.

2. My coworker keeps complaining about my schedule

Two months ago, I took a new job with the understanding that I would hours slightly different from the norm. I work from 7-4, while most everyone else works 8-5 and a few work 9-6 (I’m the only 7-4). When it’s really busy, I come in at 6 or even 5 a.m., or work from home in the evenings, but can’t stay past 4 due to a personal commitment and that was understood by my manager when she hired me and, frankly, she’s been great about it.

The problem is one of my coworkers is spreading the word that the “new guy is lazy because he leaves early every day.” I want to nip this in the bud, but at the same time my hours really aren’t any of his business. Sometimes this guy is passive-aggressive and schedules me to attend meetings from 4-5 pm. I decline the invites and simply say “please check my calendar to see my availability.” If he did this, he would see that I work 7-4.

Is this something I should mention to my manager? Should I just let it go? Saying “I work 7-4 and when it’s busy I come in at 5” sounds defensive, and I don’t think I really have anything to be defensive about. Thanks.

This guy is obnoxious.

At a minimum, you should say something to him like this: “Fergus, I work 7-4. Sometimes I come in earlier than that, but I leave by 4. I negotiated this schedule with Lucinda when I started. Do you have concerns about this?” (That last part doesn’t indicate his concerns would matter; it’s there to force him to either state his beef or stop complaining.) You should also make sure that you’ve been clear about your schedule with your coworkers, so that they know what’s actually up if they hear any weirdness from Fergus about it.

3. My company wants me to work during my FMLA leave

I am the only software developer at my employer. That means I am the only person with the knowledge, experience and skillset for several projects within the company. My wife and I are expecting our first child in the next few weeks. I will be taking time off under FMLA (which I am eligible for), and I verbally notified my company of this fact 6 months in advance of the due date. I also filled out the requisite forms 2 months in advance (as required by company policy).

In a department meeting, my boss casually mentioned that one of the executives was concerned what would happen if something broke during my absence. My boss told him (without consulting me), that they could call, and have me “VPN in” to fix something if it was broke. In my boss’ words, “he will still be around. He’s not going to be completely unavailable.” This conversation took place without any input from me. Is this a reasonable expectation, or would it constitute “FMLA interference”?

My understanding is that it’s reasonable to field short phone calls while on FLMA, as it’s considered a “professional courtesy”. For instance, if somebody needed to know where a file was, or needed to know the password for a website, it’s perfectly reasonable to call the employee and ask them. Doesn’t the water get murkier if they are asking me to log in and actively do work (even if it’s a “work emergency”)? Does the law (or court rulings) say anything about whether work can be done if the employee is the only one who knows how to do something?

In my mind, the company had 6 months to prepare a “contingency plan” for my absence. There was talk of adding another developer at one point (which would address most of these concerns), but that fell by the wayside. This is a major life changing event for my family, and there is no way that I will be available at my company’s beck and call. How do I gently tell my boss that my availability will be extremely limited and remind him of the FMLA regulations that they should abide by?

You are right. There’s no right to be left absolutely alone during FMLA leave; courts have ruled that fielding occasional calls about your job is a “professional courtesy,” as long as it’s “reasonable contact” limited to things like “inquiries about the location of files or passing along institutional or status knowledge.” However, asking or requiring you to perform work while you’re on FMLA is what can cross the line into interference.

I’d say this to your boss: “I want to make sure everyone’s on the same page about how things will be handled during my leave. I can definitely take an occasional phone call to give some quick info in an emergency, but the law on FMLA says that I shouldn’t be doing actual work. I don’t want this to cause any problems once I’m already on leave, so I want to make sure everyone is clear on that ahead of time, and that there are solutions lined up for whatever work does come up.”

4. Was I naive in offering honest feedback?

After our big annual event, the director of operations asked us for feedback and suggestions, saying all feedback would be compiled anonymously and used only to improve next year’s event. I replied with mostly positive feedback and a small suggestion to improve last minute communication. The director of operations immediately emailed me back a 6 paragraph response that boiled down to 1) Not my fault 2) There was no communication issue anyway 3) She was way too busy to think of the minutia 4) This didn’t affect you anyway, did it? (It did) 5) Thanks for the feedback. Let me know if you think of anything else.

I was clearly being naive in offering honest feedback. Am I right that I should just not respond and keep my mouth shut next year?

Apparently, yes (unless you’re senior to her, in which case you should both continue to give feedback and address the unhelpful response).

Believe what people show you about themselves. This person showed you she’s defensive and doesn’t take feedback well.

5. Was this bad reference for the wrong person?

My boyfriend has been interviewing at a city attorney’s office for months now. He was told the job was his, they just need HR to check references (2 supervisors). The first supervisor was from a job 3 years ago, which ended amicably. He reached out to his old supervisor to confirm he would be a reference but he never replied.

The employer contacted him and told him that this old employer gave him a really bad review, although no idea what he said (the second supervisor at his current company of 2.5 years was very positive). The current position he is interviewing for is still on the table but being reviewed by the “higher ups” and definitely at risk. He has a friend who works there and is fighting for him fortunately but isn’t any guarantee.

Should he reach out to that old employer and find out what happened and why he gave the bad review? There was a bad employee that worked at the office also named Jason that the reference maybe got confused with. Is it worth contacting him?

Yes. He has nothing to lose by reaching out, and potentially a lot to gain if it turns out that they were thinking of the wrong person.

{ 267 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    Wow, OP#2, I might even want to talk to my manager about Fergus on the meeting scheduling thing. It’s one thing for a co-worker to grumble if they think you get to go home early (I mean it’s stupid, but still); deliberately doing things like scheduling meetings after the time you’re supposed to leave? That’s well beyond feeling put-upon. What other crap is he going to pull while you’re out of the office?

    1. Snoskred*

      #2 – I would want to talk to my manager in regards to this guy, soonest! You arranged with your manager to work a certain schedule, and they need to speak to this person and say “I agreed with X that they would come in early and leave by B time. I’m hearing that you are saying X is lazy and that is not the case at all. You need to stop this kind of talk immediately. If you have any issues with the scheduling of other staff, the person to speak to about such issues is me.”

      Things I would be tempted to do – but please to note, I would not actually do these things this is just me daydreaming

      – Schedule meetings next week with him for 7am, 6am and 5am.
      – Send him an email every morning right after you arrive which goes like “I dropped by your office to speak to you about A when I arrived today at X time, but you were not there. I was surprised by this. Why were you not in the office at X time?”

      I do think speaking to your manager ASAP is important because this kind of talk needs to be nipped in the bud before it becomes a major issue. Also, I would suggest that this is not the only bitching about other staff members that this guy is doing and so if you hear any bitching directly from them about things, you need to keep your manager in the loop in regards to that. :)

      1. Matt*

        I’ve actually done something like that with a coworker who would call me late every other day or so. He’s a real phone person and always calls, never emails, while I’m the exact opposite :-) and often if he didn’t reach me, he would send me an email just saying “please call me back urgently” or something like that. One day he called late, I had left an hour earlier, and he sent me one of those call-back-urgent emails … I called him next morning at 7 am, of course he wasn’t there, and then I replied to his call-back email just saying “done” :-)

        1. blackcat*

          As an instructor of both high school and college kids, I always have the “I don’t email after 7pm” in my syllabus. I often get frantic emails from students (and it used to be parents), asking for an “immediate” response at 9, 10pm or even later. I make point of responding to those between 5:30 and 6am (because that’s when I actually see the emails!).

          Generally, people get the point. One parent once didn’t, and after not getting a response to her email sent at 10pm or her one at 11pm, she *left my boss a voicemail* at midnight saying that I didn’t care about her child and deserved to be fired. Fortunately, my boss’s response was to send me a “WTF is wrong with her?!” email, forwarding the voice message (we had an integrated system, so voice mails appeared as emails with audio). He asked if she was really complaining that I had dared take 2 hours to respond to an email at 10pm. My boss’s email to me was sent at 6am, and I responded right away!

          There’s a small number of people who will never get that not everyone works on their schedule. Most people are reasonable.

          1. april ludgate*

            And I’m sure these are the same parents who joke about how “easy” it must be to be a teacher because you “only work during school hours and have the summers off.”

            1. blackcat*

              They are certainly the same parents who felt that because they were paying $$ in tuition, I should act like the on call, personal tutor to their child. I am also sure, if they sent their kids to a public school, they would claim the same thing referencing their taxes.

              (In defense of parents, 95+% of them were either wonderful or good. Only <5% were bad, but boy were they loud)

          2. Bio-Pharma*

            Just a side note, but it must be SO different being a teacher in the age of email than prior to it! I can’t imagine what I (or my parents) would have emailed my teachers about that were urgent!

            1. Blue_eyes*

              As a teacher, I can tell you that those “urgent” emails are usually not urgent at all. “Sally doesn’t understand her big project that is due tomorrow [even though you’ve given her weeks to do it and offered to help in class or after school], please respond by immediately doing her project for her and giving her an A.”

              1. Muriel Heslop*

                As a teacher, THIS! I only taught in the age of email and frequently wondered what it would have been like without it. Ah, bliss.

                1. Cordelia Naismith*

                  Or without internet and “parent portals” to the gradebook! Oh, to have been a teacher back in the day when gradebooks were actual paper books and not something parents expected to see be updated approximately 30 seconds after their kid turned in their homework.

                2. The Strand*

                  Google “Our Miss Brooks” and listen to an episode… if I remember correctly, she did get phone calls at home from the principal!

              2. A Teacher*

                Or, “Sally didn’t turn in the assignment because she was suspended two days last week and busy over the weekend, you’ll have to take it late.” Um, no. Just no.

            2. manybellsdown*

              My daughter’s been having a mystery health problem that we finally managed to get diagnosed. Emailing the teachers was a great way to get everyone on the same page about her medical issue. Although I wouldn’t consider it “urgent”, more of a heads-up.

              1. blackcat*

                I always appreciated those sorts of emails, particularly if they included something like “Side effects of her medication include X,Y, and Z. Please let me know if you see anything beyond W.”

            3. Callie*

              I teach college students and yeah. Emails at 11 pm of OH NO I CAN’T FIND THE ASSIGNMENT ON BLACKBOARD PLEASE HELP or other such nonsense. I told my students I don’t leave my .edu email open at home, and while I get it on my phone I put it in “do not disturb mode” at 9:30 every night. Unless you are in iminent danger of death or dismemberment, it is not an emergency. Do not expect me to reply until in the morning.

              1. nofelix*

                Wow that sounds beyond reasonable, when most people don’t look at any emails outside of work hours (including clients and colleagues these students will be working with in the future).

          3. Chocolate lover*

            That’s a great idea about putting it in the syllabus, I may steal that idea! Gratefully I haven’t had many of my (college) students do the “late email but I still expect a response immediately” thing lately, but it happens occasionally. Good luck with that, since on any given night, I’m asleep by 10 pm.

            1. blackcat*

              Oh, I say that I will respond within “One business day” to emails, and that I will never check email after 7pm. I also say that emails must include the students name (if not obvious from their email) and course and must include proper spelling and grammar. This rule was instituted when, as a student teacher, I got an email from something like “sexybaby69@ email . com” just saying “How do I do number 2 ?”

              Since putting this in my syllabus, I get next to no such emails (I think I got one two years ago). But I feel lucky that the kids read the syllabus!

              1. blackcat*

                Should add: they read the syllabus to know that I don’t respond to emails without names, courses, and intelligible grammar. They conveniently skip the part about my “one business day” policy. In the same paragraph.

                1. Yes, this!*

                  Are you me? I had a whole section in my syllabus essentially teaching students how to send professional correspondence, so this wouldn’t happen. There was also a section on when to expect a response. Most of the time, they got it. The few times they didn’t, they still got their answer, but on my schedule, with a reminder to re-read their syllabus.

                  I have a feeling OldNewBoss didn’t like that I needed set boundaries, but you can’t expect part-timers to have 24/7 availability. If you want your work graded, you have to leave me alone long enough for me to have time to do it.

              2. The Other Alice*

                My professors used to insist emails came from our ‘official’ university email for that exact reason! They could look us up and see which class etc we were in and nobody was emailing from sexybaby69 (really?! Eeew)

                1. blackcat*

                  I never responded, thus never finding out who the culprit was.

                  More disturbing, I was teaching high school freshman (13-15 years old). It was definitely something like “sexybaby69” though the e might have been a 3 and there were other characters after an underscore. Someone else had clearly already claimed sexybaby69. *Shudder*

                  I actually prefer that they say the course, because it saves me time looking it up. I say it’s generally unnecessary after the first two weeks.

          4. Spiky Plant*

            Unrelated, but I miss those integrated voicemail systems, where you get each VM message as an email, and can listen/save/delete without having to ever touch an actual phone. That was awesome and offices that don’t have it just… should.

          5. Nom d'pixels*

            My husband teaches college and has the same problem. Students expect immediate responses and will have their parents contact him or the school if they don’t get them. Fortunately, he just has a blanket statement that he doesn’t deal with parents because his students are adults. That sort of thing would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Of course, the students who “need” immediate responses are the ones who waited until the last minute to do their work and will end up turning it in late.

            He has started listening to me and just not responding to emails sent after normal business hours on the weekdays, but he will check in once a day on the weekend.

            1. Chinook*

              What is it with expecting immediate responses to business emails? Do they not think that, even during business hours, you have other work to do? Even thoguh my job is 90% reacting to other people’s requests, I still can’t guarantee an immediate response. I always give a 24 hour window for a response time to an email. If it is that urgent, they can call (and leve a voicemail which gets forwarded to my computer).

              As for contacting professors and teachers after hours, I never would have considered that in university or school. That was what office hours are for.

              1. refereemn*

                Yes! If I needed to contact a professor outside of established office hours, it had better be a real emergency. Granted, this was over 15 years ago… I guess manners are really declining.

                1. Editor*

                  In the 1980s when we lived in a two-college town, we got some calls after 11 p.m., and one memorable time after midnight, from students who were trying to reach a professor whose first and last names were the same as my husband’s. We answered the phone because my husband was in IT and did get late-night calls. So, talking to the after-midnight student, I told him not to call so late at night and not to call a wrong number again when he didn’t know who he was calling, and he replied indignantly, “I knew who I was calling!” Sigh.

                  There are some college students who have bad manners, and such students have reappeared in every generation from time immemorial.

                2. Melissa*

                  They’re not necessarily declining; people just have new platforms on which to interact with people, so they can enact the behavior they always would have but couldn’t.

              2. RG*

                I would email professors after business hours, just because I often couldn’t go to office hours due to work and that was usually when I happened to sit down to do work and stuff. But I never expected them to respond immediately.

              3. Anon College Support Staff*

                I never expect an e-mail I send to anyone after business hours to be returned that day, and I’m always surprised that we seem to be a minority on that. As a not-teaching college staff person, what amazes me is how often people send me a nastygram e-mail as a last resort complaining that I didn’t call back when they called 17 times and *never left a message.* Their issue was so important that they had to call repeatedly, sometimes in a row (which can be VERY annoying when I’m not answering because I’m working with another student-the primary reason I wouldn’t answer the phone during business hours), but not important enough to leave a 20 second voicemail? I can promise that if you don’t tell me you called, I’m not calling you back. I get that we’re in the age of caller ID, but I do not have you programmed into my work phone. If your call is truly urgent (tip: it’s probably not), I’ll know I need to call you back ASAP from your message, not from the fact that you called and hung up every five minutes for an hour. /*endrant

              4. John R*

                I know what you mean! I only check my e-mail 3 times a day, morning, before lunch and at the end of the day. If something is more urgent they can call.

              5. DJ*

                I teach at a college, and I’ve learned to set up ground rules for emails. I’m convinced that my students are so used to the immediate responses they get with text messages from friends, they expect everyone to reply that quickly. I’ve had students email in 20-minute intervals, angry that I’m ignoring them.

            2. Courtney*

              I had an awesome professor in college who had his tenure, served on boards for the university and was highly respected. He would help in any way he could to teach students or help them understand but a late assignment wasn’t accepted. His reasoning was if he was your boss and said have that to me by 9:00 Monday morning you didn’t stroll in with it Wednesday afternoon and a good boss be okay with it.

              If a student threatened “I’ll take this to the dean” his response was “okay and while you are there can you ask him if we are still on for lunch next week”. He got the point across quickly. I’m convinced he did his students a favor and hope they took the lesson to the workplace of timeliness of assignments. He also never dealt with parents because his students were over 18 and didn’t hesitate to tell them he won’t communicate with the parents directly. Only the students since they were adults.

            3. Callie*

              He CAN’T deal with parents, because of FERPA (if he’s in the US). I love giving that response to parents of college students. Unless the 18-or-older student has signed a waiver allowing a third party to discuss the specific situation, we’re not allowed to. So little Johnny’s mom calling to find out his grades because Johnny won’t turn over his grade report? sorry!

          6. Megan*

            My roommate is a preschool teacher and she once had a parent call her on her cell phone at 7 or 8 pm on a Friday with concerns over her daughter’s progress report. The kid was 3.

          7. INTP*

            I actually wrote that I may take up to two business days to respond in my syllabus when I was a TA. Of course I usually responded more quickly than that, but if by some awful alignment of the universe they all needed to email me the day before I had a major assignment due, I could prioritize my own work.
            I think it’s good for them to learn professional email courtesy from school even if teachers don’t mind being chained to email. I’ve worked with a few 4:45pm urgent email senders who I wish had learned the hard way about giving people ample time to respond to an email!
            P.S. My favorite urgent email was from someone who wanted to know if he could get excused from the test he just took (rather than a zero) if he went to the doctor that day. I’m guessing he had no plans to go otherwise.

      2. QAT Contractor*

        I am glad that you are just day dreaming about what you would do because actually doing those actions would be extremely childish and just add to the drama.

        The best course of action would be to clearly state that OP has a different work schedule than others which is something that he worked out with the manager before being hired. If the other employee still has an issue after Alison’s suggestions, then bring it to the manager’s attention to have them address it.

      3. Stranger than Fiction*

        I love it! I mean, seriously, I shake my head that this issue is so prevalent on this site. Why do these people automatically assume these folks on the early shift just blatantly walk out the door early every day, rather than first thinking they have an early shift??!! Aren’t they seeing Op 2’s emails at 6 and 7am. I mean, DUH.

        Squelch that BS

        1. Nom d'pixels*

          Where I work, we have electronic signatures that time stamp everything. It makes it very easy to see that something was generated early in the morning. I have had to use those to defend my reports to higher-ups when the reports come in early and are seen leaving “early”.

          1. manybellsdown*

            Even before that – my father did this for decades. He’d leave the house at 4 or 5am so his hour commute would be easier. And then he’d clock out at 4pm for the same reason.

        2. BananaPants*

          One of our technicians comes in at 6 AM and gets to leave at 2:30. It just means that if we need him to start a test we need to let him know by lunchtime – not a big deal to get used to. But he’s hourly and most of us are salaried. As a salaried employee if I got in at 6 AM I’d be stuck at the office until 3:30 or 4 because if I left at 2:30 I’d be viewed as a clock watcher – note that if this is shifted an hour later with typical work hours from 7 AM to 3:30 PM, no one in management would really bat an eye. There’s a definite negative perception from a salaried employee going THAT far outside the normal starting time (which for engineers like me ranges from roughly 7 AM to 9 AM depending on work and personal schedules).

          We have a lot of employees who arrive for the day at 9 AM because they’ve worked schedules with their spouse to avoid before school care for their kids – they get the kids on the bus and leave for work. Virtually all of them are at the office until 5:30 PM or later; they do get their time in. I often come in at 7 or 7:30, especially in the summer. The evening feels a lot less rushed when I’m getting home at 4 or 4:30 rather than an hour later.

      4. lowercase holly*

        or instead of scheduling meetings at super early times, schedule them for exactly whenever he’s supposed to be in. you will have already been there a couple hours and will be super awake. him maybe not so much. or is it just me who hates very first thing in the morning meetings?

    2. plain_jane*

      OP#2 – have you considered setting your calendar so you _always_ have a meeting 4-6pm? “Sorry, as you can see by my calendar, I’m already booked then. Do you have another time free? (My calendar is always up to date.)”

      Ditto to other posters who mention sending emails at all hours. You don’t even need to be passive aggressive about it, people will notice the number of emails & consistency that they arrive from you before they get in.

      1. BeenThere*

        I do this, I’m a 7:30-4:30 worker and people in my company can have the same variation in hours as the OP. I have 7:30 – 8:30 and 4:30 – 5:30, blocked out as transit time. I’ll come in earlier but there is no way you can get me to stay later, I’d rather dial in from home than be in the later traffic. It helps that I’m in Texas and most of my team is on the East Coast and in the UK.

      2. the_scientist*

        I was going to suggest something like this, which is common practice in my organization. Lots of people here flex their time and work from home regularly, and a lot of people will set their Outlook to say “out of office” from the time they leave in the evening onward (my boss leaves at 4 every day and will have from 4 p.m. blocked off in her calendar). We also have the option of setting our status to say “outside of normal working hours at X p.m.” or whatever, which basically lets other people know that you’re flexing your hours that day and they may not get an immediate response.

        That being said, that works because of the organizational culture and the fact that there are clear policies dictating how flex time etc. works and it’s expected that ALL (even the most entry-level employees) have access to these perks if their jobs allow. Given that the OP’s manager has been great about this, it seems like this type of thing would work for the OP, but it still needs to be cleared up with the colleague or the manager if only because the nasty rumours need to stop.

      3. Judy*

        I always put my personal appointments like doctor’s appointments that are during the work day in my calendar so someone won’t schedule anything. If you do have a standing commitment, I do really think you should put it (plus travel time) on the calendar, not just rely on the “business hours” on the calendar.

        1. BananaPants*

          +1. I block personal appointments in Outlook – doctor’s or dentist’s appointments, but also commitments that will affect my normal working hours. Right now on Monday and Wednesday I have to leave work at 4:15 to get home and take over the kids so my husband can leave for his class. I have that blocked in Outlook so that people scheduling meetings know I have a hard stop.

          For each of my kids when I was pumping milk at work I blocked those breaks to make sure I got them! It was labeled as a 15 minute “private appointment” at 9, noon, and 3. My manager and teammates were mildly amused. I had somewhat more flexible scheduling of my pumping breaks but by putting them on the calendar it helped to ensure that I’d definitely get my break at some point.

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      I agree. It sounds like this guy is being obnoxious enough that I might just go to my manager at this point and skip talking to him directly. Someone who’s going out of his way to spread the word that I’m a bad employee doesn’t seem to me like someone who will be mollified by learning that I come in earlier than everyone else (I mean, who does that?)

      If I were to approach him first, I actually don’t think I would use Alison’s “Do you have any concerns?” wording because, to me, it makes it sound like somehow he has a say in the matter. Since he seems to think the OP’s schedule *is* somehow his concern, I would worry that that would give someone like this more ammunition rather than shutting the whole thing down. Instead, I’d probably just go with something like “Fergus, I work 7-4, and sometimes come in earlier. Lucinda has approved this schedule. I would appreciate it if you would keep this in mind when scheduling meetings, as I am unable to be here past 4:00.” In other words, give him the schedule, make it clear the manager knows and has approved it, and relate it to what you need from him (not scheduling meetings after 4). And if he keeps scheduling late meetings, loop the manager in.

      Good luck OP! Sorry you have to deal with this jerk.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, I’ve known people for whom the phrase, “Do you have any concerns” would be taken literally and would open the door for unwanted commentary from them. I think that in order to effectively use that phrase, one has to be fairly confident in one’s ability to handle any subsequent verbal jousting that might ensue from the other employee. A new employee on the same level as the guy who’s asking might not feel that confident and may want tho use phrasing that makes it more clear that he’s not opening any doors for accepting the guy’s weighing-in on his work schedule.

        1. QAT Contractor*

          If they express any additional concerns the simple answer in this case is to refer them to the manager.

          Given the other information about hours and managers prior approval should leave the employee with little else to say by itself though. But some people are just combative.

          1. Sara*

            Exactly. Swap “Do you have any concerns?” for “Any concerns you have can be taken up with Lucinda” or “We can schedule a meeting to discuss these concerns with Lucinda.” In my experience, ridiculous “concerns” like this tend to evaporate when you show you’re willing to bring in the higher-ups.

            1. Jaune Desprez*

              I’ve had excellent results with this approach. “Since you seem to have concerns about [thing that has nothing to do with you], why don’t we see if Manager has a few minutes to discuss it with us right now?” The aggressor almost always slinks away.

              1. TT*

                I remember that working beautifully at an old job of mine. We had a resident busy body and she targeted me because I was the “new girl” in the office. One day I pulled the, “Really? Let’s check it with Ms. Boss” move and she almost tripped over her own feet scuttling away.

            2. AnonAnalyst*

              Ooh, I like this better! It seems much more likely to just shut down the complaining and combativeness from the coworker.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          These are all good points about where to take the conversation after asking if there are any concerns. I was imagining opening the can of worms and then being all, “now what?” when the other person lays into you.

      2. Beezus*

        I would actually use the “concerns” verbiage. He’s already behaving like he has a say. Addressing it head-on once and for all is the best way to blast through it.

        I had a job once where I was on call virtually 24/7 for *serious issues*. I got calls anywhere from 5 am to 1 am, and I was expected to answer without fail. I had a passive-aggressive production lead who thought that meant he could call me anytime for any reason, because “that’s why I got paid the big bucks.” (Note- I made $32k/year, not that it mattered.) I had to address it head on.

        “Jim, my work hours are 7 am – 4 pm. I am on call outside those hours, and you’re welcome to call me if you have an urgent matter that can’t wait that you can’t address yourself, but I’m finding you’re calling me early in the morning for other reasons, and I need to ask you to stop doing that. Do you have any concerns?”
        “Well, sometimes I need to get into the PPE cabinet, and I don’t have a key, and you’re not here to let me in.”
        “Brian and Laurie have keys and are on-site before 4 am. Please contact them if you need something early in the morning.”
        “Well, I needed something from ACME Co.”
        “ACME has a hotline you can call anytime to get that delivered.”
        “Yeah, but you manage ACME Co., so you should call them, that’s your job.”
        “You’ve been instructed to call them directly for simple requests off-hours, and that’s what all the other line leads do. It makes no sense for you to call me to ask me to make a phone call for you. If you want me to know about the problem, you can send me an email, but please call them yourself.”
        “I needed something to happen by noon today, but I was thinking of it now at 5 am, and I wanted to call you to let you know before I forgot.”
        “That’s what we have email and desk phones with voicemail for, Jim. Please use those in the future if you have something you don’t need me to address until I am in the office.”
        “I also wanted to share this awesome MC Hammer song with you.”
        “As much as I like MC Hammer, I find I appreciate his music more when I am not awakened at 5:30 in the morning to listen to it.”

        When you know someone is just being a jerk and doesn’t really have any valid concerns driving their behavior, putting them on the spot and asking them to air their concerns once and for all is the best way to get the behavior to stop. Sometimes people have to listen to themselves to realize how ridiculous they’re being.

          1. Beezus*

            He seriously called me at 5:30 in the morning once and made me listen to a few bars of Hammertime before he would tell me what he wanted. I can see the humor now, but at the time, grrrrrr.

              1. Beezus*

                Hanging up was Not Done. I was documenting his behavior at that point, and I didn’t want to give him any counterpoints to turn it into a he said/she said thing. It played better for me to patiently take the call and explain calmly why it wasn’t okay.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Seriously? I thought you added that one as a joke! o.O

              5:30am is most definitely not Hammer time.

              1. Nichole*

                “It is NOT Hammer time” is my new way of saying that it’s too early for something. Claimed it.

        1. Myrin*

          He’s already behaving like he has a say.
          This really is the most confusing thing to me. Like… why? It doesn’t seem from the letter like Obnoxius Otto and the OP work very closely together (like, say, on a two- or three-person-project) where it’s important everyone be there at exactly the same time. I can understand knowing that someone in the same position as me works less hours yet earns the same but even then I’d be annoyed silently and mind my own business. It’s weird to me that Otto immediately jumps to the conclusion of OP working less – I’d always assume she’s there earlier (I mean, doesn’t Otto see her already being there when he arrives?) or has some kind of special arrangement I have no insight in.

    4. Elysian*

      I agree with most of the advice here. But I wonder from others with more knowledge – is “please check my calendar to see my availability” a typical response? My office doesn’t use a calendaring system (which is a problem for another post) so this isn’t something I would ever suggest someone do. I think a better response might be to just tell the coworker that you work 7am – 4pm and that he’ll need to reschedule the meeting if your presence is required. Is just saying “please check my calendar” a little passive-aggressive, or is that the normal way to handle this in offices with a calendaring system?

      1. KT*

        Pretty standard language. Meetings are so common at my company–even very junior people often have 5-6 meetings a day–that there is no way to keep track of your calendar without looking at it. If someone wants time from me–“please look at my calendar and set up time” is standard verbiage.

        1. Melissa*

          5-6 meetings a day? When do people do work?

          We have something of a meeting culture like that where I am, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to have 2-4 meetings a day, and there’s only one day a week that I don’t have any meetings. It irritates the heck out of me.

      2. LQ*

        Totally normal in my office with a calendar system. Because yes, you might be free from 7-4 but does someone expect you to know every meeting you have coming up for the next 2-3 weeks off the top of your head? The calendar just shows when people are free and you schedule in that window. Especially when you have meetings with lots of people with different things happening. Even just scheduling with 3 people you sometimes have to hunt around for the one slot that is an hour open for everyone.

      3. baseballfan*

        In my case, “please check my calendar” is a nicer way to say “Stop being lazy.”

        The reason availability is viewable in the calendar system is so that meetings can be scheduled without having to ask the person to stop what they’re doing and give a preferred meeting time.

        I find it particularly annoying when sent by partners’ admin assistants for whom a major part of their job is scheduling meetings. And not for nothing, it’s a whole lot easier to check for “green” in the collective calendars than to email everyone asking them when to meet.

    5. Pete*

      In all seriousness, the easiest way to nip this in the bud is to change “please check my calendar” to “Sorry, Can’t meet today at 4. I’ll be in the office tomorrow morning at 6 if this is urgent.” Having to point out that THEY are not available for a meeting usually provides the perspective they are missing.

      I’ve used this on coworkers, to challenge the assumption that everyone works the same schedule they do.

      I’ve used this on my parents when I was in college: “Dad, if you keep calling me at 9 AM on saturday, I’m going to start calling you back at 11 PM on sunday.”

      And I learned it from a college professor, who put her home number on the syllabus with the warning: “Any calls recieved after I go to bed will be returned promptly at 5:30 AM when I wake up.”

      1. Erin*

        I went to college in a time zone that was 2 hours earlier than my home state. My mom, who is an early bird, kept “forgetting” the time difference. I wish I had thought of your tactic!

  2. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: That is so aggravating! There are things I don’t like about my company, but this sort of thing isn’t one of them. When you’re on short-term disability or FMLA, you are On Leave and that’s all there is to it. Your badge is deactivated, along with all your network access, until you’re officially back.

    Is there anyone you could work with to handle the smaller stuff while you’re out on leave? Like if some kind of program fails and there’s a standard fix or something like that? I’m not a developer, but I am an IT nerd, and I asked some of the developers I work to show me how to do some simple things on my own so I don’t need to bug them every time I hit a snag when I’m testing. Most stuff I wouldn’t dream of doing on my own, nor would I have any clue how to do them, but I like being able to handle the more rudimentary things by myself.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Wouldn’t there be other issues too? Most software people are exempt. That means that the employer would owe them a full week’s pay if the employee actually performed real work that required a VPN in. The only way to get out of that would be an intermittent FMLA.
      I’m also not sure why a 2 month notice is required for FMLA. Many medical conditions have shorter notices (someone gets in a car accident, etc.).
      I’d raise these with the manager and suggest that they contact HR to see what is allowed by law and what isn’t. Many managers are clueless about FMLA operations.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        You’re right, they are. I’m lucky that my employer is very strict about this kind of thing, I guess. When I went on maternity leave, I gave my boss my phone number and told her to call me if she was in a bind. But I felt comfortable doing that because I knew she’d only do that if there really was no other alternative. And she didn’t call me once.

        I think in the OP’s place I’d consider going to HR myself and let them handle it. The OP’s boss is under the mistaken impression that working while on FMLA is no big deal, but it clearly is. A boss like that could easily blow you off, or lay a guilt trip on you for not being a “team player” because you had the audacity to have a child, and the affrontery to want to spend time with your spouse and newborn.

      2. Mpls*

        FMLA requires “reasonable” notice, and since the poster is taking off time to care for a baby, the lead time (barring complications) was knowable. It could be the 2 months notice requirement applies specifically to paternal leave under FMLA for that company.

        But you are correct – FMLA doesn’t require the 2 months and typically can’t for most requested time off.

    2. KJR*

      I had my second child in ’99. My boss quit while I was on maternity leave. They had no one to handle some of the HR responsibilities with both of us gone. I stepped in from home, BUT was paid my entire salary for the full 12 weeks I was off. I checked and responded to e-mails daily, took phone calls, etc. I’ll admit it was a challenge at times, taking on this responsibility in addition to caring for a newborn and a 2 year old on my own (my husband was back at work at this point). They were very respectful though, only contacting me when necessary, and they really appreciated the help. So it worked out well on both ends. Plus it was kind of a nice to stay in touch with co-workers while I was home with the babies all day.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        Then you weren’t on FMLA – FMLA is unpaid leave. You were paid, and you weren’t on leave, but it sounds like a good situation for you, and I’m glad it worked out.

        1. Spiky Plant*

          It could have still been FMLA… the law doesn’t require it to be paid, but the company could well elect to pay anyway without invalidating it.

          1. KJR*

            That was my thought as well. It still felt like a leave to me, I spent maybe a half hour a day at most on work-related responsibilities.

          2. Partly Cloudy*

            I don’t know… if the employee is being paid and working from home, they *shouldn’t* call it FMLA because if they’re working, they’re not really on leave. And since FMLA only covers 12 weeks within a 12-month period, the employee could end up getting screwed if they end up with another issue and are told that their FMLA was already used up even though they worked from home and got paid their regular salary during their last “leave.”

    3. RVA Cat*

      #3 – First off, congratulations!

      My firstborn will be a year old next month. Your boss needs to get real — anyone who has cared for a newborn wouldn’t *want* you logging in to their systems, knowing how sleep-deprived you may be!

      Talking someone through the process, while they are actually the one writing the code, is safer for all concerned. Your FMLA is less compromised, and the other employee is an added line of defense against errors.

      1. Chris B*

        Agreed. The first three months of caring for a newborn is a horrible time to be doing any kind of detail oriented work.

    4. John R*

      #3: You should see if they will deactivate your network access for “security reasons” while you’re out because non-employees shouldn’t have access to the company network. That solves the problem of them asking you to work via VPN.

    5. neverjaunty*

      I wonder if part of the reason they’re assuming OP #3 will be just as available (except he’s at home) is that he’s a dad. You know, he’s just there to give the lady a hand, not to be a parent himself or anything.

    6. FMLA Guy*

      This is the OP…

      Yes, I have already discussed some of my “daily tasks” with a co-worker and he is going to fill in for me while I am gone. This is mostly things like checking that backups ran and reading event logs to verify that nothing serious happened, as well as the occasional database restore (fairly rare). He does have some database experience, so at least that part of my job is covered. I did email my boss to make him aware that my co-worker is covering for me.

  3. AnotherAnon*

    OP 2, I can empathize with you. I was in a somewhat analogous situation when I was working on my PhD (in my field, this involved working 50-60 hrs/wk in a research lab with your advisor’s other graduate students, postdocs, techs, etc.). I was a shared student between two research groups, which meant that I had to split my time between the two spaces and couldn’t ever have 100% face time in either group. I tried my hardest to maintain a presence in each space, noting what events everyone was expected to attend and making sure to go and actively participate at those. Several graduate students in my main group were not-very-nice, though, and made snarky and rude comments about me in person and behind my back (along the lines of “she’s not dedicated” and “she’s a bad example”). I found these comments hurtful and totally not grounded in reality, as I usually had to work a lot harder and longer than most of them due to having a dual assignment! Unfortunately these students were part of a clique/”in-group” and seemed to influence many other colleagues in that group to also have a negative perception of me (the culture was very messed up, and our advisor was very hands-off and told me “perception is reality” and left me to fend for myself basically). Thankfully, my other group was very supportive, and through a strong support network I managed to finish my PhD and move on.

    OP, I would be very mindful of your workplace’s culture and where this coworker fits into your workplace’s social structure. Hopefully he is not particularly influential with your other coworkers and the higher-ups.

      1. BeenThere*

        I had a manager who told me that once during a review where he put me on PIP. A few months later he was pushed out and became a used car salesperson, I secured a top at a top investment bank which he complained about regularly. I have never witnessed swifter karma in all my life.

        1. Um*

          I understand your point but please, don’t run down the Used Car Salesman. I may be feeling tetchy today but it grates me when it’s implied that a whole gamut of working people can be slated as less than another whole field of workers.

          1. HRish Dude*

            Yeah but if you’re leaping to conclusions about people (Perception is Reality), you’re probably going to be a pretty crappy car salesman.

      2. LBK*

        The point isn’t to say that whatever people see is the absolute truth, it’s that people can only form opinions based on what they actually see. It’s meant as a warning to consider how your actions will be viewed by others and ensuring that they either line up with what you intend to portray or that you’re exercising transparency so that your actions can be understood.

        1. neverjaunty*

          While that’s true, when an employee explains to a manager that other employees’ misperceptions are causing problems, the manager should address that instead of just shrugging it off because confrontation is bad.

          1. LBK*

            Agreed, I think it’s part of a conversation with an employee who’s having image problems, but that conversation should be paired with one with the people making the accusations about minding their own business. Just saying that the concept as a whole isn’t useless; I’ve found a lot of personal value in it.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            Or when a manager won’t stand up for their employees/reports and just tells them “perception is reality” — start looking for a new job or praying for a new manager. I had a manager who used this phrase all the time. What they failed to get was eventually I started to understand that that cuts both ways and if my perception was that they were a bad manager, then that was my reality.

      3. The Office Admin*

        I had a really great teacher in high school who told us this:
        Perception is reality. So if you perceive a wrong doing, then it is a wrong doing because that is your reality.
        I perceive that people treat me differently because I am a small woman. Regardless of whether is is factually true or not, that is my perception and therefor that is my reality.

        Anyway, I’ve always found that phrase to be helpful when working with other people. It helps me see their side of a matter by putting myself in their shoes, asking myself, what are they perceiving?

        In this case OP, your co-worker may perceive that you’re slacking off, because perhaps he would consider himself to be slacking off if he left every day at 4pm, regardless if he had put in an 8 or 9 hour work day and he may have no idea what time you start at, or be jealous that you’re secured yourself a “better” schedule.

        1. Anonicorn*

          Perception is reality. So if you perceive a wrong doing, then it is a wrong doing because that is your reality.

          You can perceive the moon as a flat circle, but that’s not reality. I understand the meaning in the context of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, but applying this broadly has all sorts of faulty implications.

          1. LBK*

            It’s not meant to be applied broadly or concretely. It’s meant to be applied in terms of professional persona. I think you’re kind of taking it too seriously – it’s a really helpful concept in its proper context.

          2. Partly Cloudy*

            Agreed. That sounds like a slippery slope to self-justification and/or self-victimization.

            Having said that, I used to manage a team that had a typical “slow day” every other week, so I would let them leave early when their work was finished. Until my boss told me to have them stay anyway because the higher-ups would “perceive” that we were overstaffed if they saw dark, empty offices before 5pm. In the meantime, we also had to be careful about OT. Talk about a fine line.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Self-vicitimization? It’s simply the truth that people are going to judge you by the only thing have to go on—what they perceive. They can’t be in your head. They can’t live your life. So what they see, what they hear, that’s all they have to go on to judge you by. Does that mean you have to life your life trying to look perfect to everyone? No. But it is common sense to acknowledge that’s what happens, and if you care what other people think of you (and at some point, most people do care what *some* people think of them), then yo have to take that into account.

              I’ll be working at the office this weekend. I could just as easily work from home, and in fact, it’s a rare weekend that I don’t work even if I don’t come in to the office. But I know some of the higher ups at my org are people who don’t think you are working if you aren’t AIS,* so I sometimes stay late or come in on the weekends so that they can see I’m here–and if they aren’t here, then someone else will see. It’s ridiculous because all that should matter is whether I get my work done. But I generally like my job, so it’s worth it to me that people higher up know I’m a hard worker.

              *@ss in seat

              1. LBK*

                Yes, exactly. It’s meant to counteract the effects of people not giving the benefit of the doubt. Now, I think people probably should MTOB more often and just assume that people are doing what they need to do unless it affects them directly, but unfortunately that’s not always the case in real life, so sometimes you have to play defense on your image to make sure that the reality you’re creating based on your perception is a good one.

                As a personal example, I used to make sure I had a ton of visibility with my employees when I was a retail manager. I tried to stay out of the office as much as possible, even if I had perfectly valid, necessary work that would’ve been easier to do in the office – I’d do schedules while standing at a register write up my coaching reports behind the counter at customer service. If I was out of sight, as far as my employees knew I wasn’t working, so it was easier to just be present and available than constantly have to fight the perception that I wasn’t doing anything if I wasn’t in front of them working.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  That’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of it from the perspective of needing to make sure that people who report to you see that you work. It definitely is true that managers that are not seen are sometimes thought of as not working and leaving everything to be taken care of by their employees.

              2. Partly Cloudy*

                The Office Admin said:
                “I perceive that people treat me differently because I am a small woman. Regardless of whether is is factually true or not, that is my perception and therefor that is my reality.”

                That’s what led me to say self-victimization.

                I totally understand what you’re saying about AIS and perception from the higher ups, and I agree that it shouldn’t matter but there are times when it just does.

          3. Doreen*

            It’s not just about putting yourself in someone elses’s shoes. The same phrase can be (and in my experience is) used to mean that perceptions cannot simply be ignored. For example, there is a person at my job who is widely perceived to be a bully. Virtually everyone who works in her region is on a list to transfer out, literally no one is on a list to transfer in, and few people are interested in a promotion that involves working for her. Her own manager claims not to know where this perception comes from -but it doesn’t matter if she really is a bully. The perception is causing real problems that need to be addressed,

      4. puddin*

        Hmmm, I like this phrase. It helps to explain when people are at odds over seemingly ‘factual’ circumstances.

      5. Busy*

        Oh, you’ve not heard that gem? Current job’s senior management is very found of it, to the annoyance of everyone else. It’s basically their way of saying no because saying yes would mean they have to manage a situation (you know, do their jobs).

    1. Michele*

      When I was in my 20s and working on my Ph.D., I was morning person. I would get into the lab around 6 AM, but I didn’t work all hours of the evening. Other people would come in a 10, take an hour for lunch, take 2 hours for dinner, and complain that they were in the lab until midnight. Then they would make snarky comments about me leaving at 5 or 6 PM. I would just reply that if they wanted to leave at the same time I did, they were welcome to show up at 6 AM with me.

      Unfortunately, their attitude carries through in a lot of jobs. Staying late is seen as dedicated, but being the first in the office goes unnoticed.

      1. Sospeso*

        I’ve also seen it play out the other way, though, where the people who come in earliest seem to get extra boss points, while the people who prefer to come in later are regarded as lazier or less dedicated. Then again, I am also decidedly not a morning person, so maybe I am simply more aware of the ways my non-morning-ness might be negatively affecting perceptions of my work performance.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, I think it depends completely on the boss’s schedule and whose hours he’s around to see. If he comes in at 7 and sees you’re already there, you get the bonus points, but if you come in at 9 and stay until 6, he’s probably gone by 4 and has no idea whether you left 2 minutes or 2 hours after him.

          All of this is moot though, because time spent in the office is the stupidest metric to measure anyone by unless they’re doing shifted coverage work.

          1. Michele*

            I do think that you are right that it depends on the boss. My graduate advisor recognized that I worked long hours and got a lot done. My current boss doesn’t care what my schedule is as long as I get a lot done, but his boss responds to people being at work late. I have had to defend one of my direct reports for leaving at 3:30 or 4 PM when she comes in between 6:30 and 7:00 everyday.

          2. Sospeso*

            “All of this is moot though, because time spent in the office is the stupidest metric to measure anyone by unless they’re doing shifted coverage work.”

            100% agree! And yet, it still seems to be used for just that purpose. It’s a lazy way of checking to see whether someone is doing their job… and it doesn’t even really check that.

      2. +1*

        “Staying late is seen as dedicated, but being the first in the office goes unnoticed”.

        This. I’m not naturally a morning person, but I will train myself to come in early if I have the option. I like the quiet of the morning- the beautiful sunrise, the easier commute, turning the lights on in the office… it feels more intimate. Unfortunately, I found in OldJob, if no one’s there to see you, no one’s there to see you… and it didn’t seem to matter much that I eagerly volunteered for shifts most people didn’t want.

        1. LBK*

          There is something kind of peaceful and enjoyable about turning the lights on in the office, isn’t there? I always found that a nice little moment when I was the early bird in my department.

          1. Blue_eyes*

            Oh, yes. At my first full time job I was usually the first one in and I would avoid turning on the overhead lights and just use my desk lamp. Sitting in that little pool of warm light, eating my breakfast, drinking my coffee, and working uninterrupted were some of the best times of the day.

            1. LBK*

              I think I particularly liked it because we had motion sensor lights, so when they flooded on at my entrance it was like the building itself was saying good morning to me. And I felt a little like Beyonce walking on stage, so that was nice.

              1. Blue_eyes*

                Haha. Any day that you can start by feeling like Beyonce walking on stage is going to be a good day. Did the lights ever turn off on you if you were sitting still at your desk? I could see that being the problem if you were the only one there. Sometimes I would scare my coworkers (accidentally) because they would see the dark room (my desk was in a corner away from the door) and assume no one was there. Eventually they got to expect me to be there and would be worried if they arrived before me.

                1. LBK*

                  Yep. That definitely happened to me. It would happen to my VP too since he had motion sensor lights in his office. Once they shut off while we were having a meeting – quite an amusing sight watching a relatively intimidating grown man in a fancy suit waving his arms around to turn the lights back on.

                2. Dynamic Beige*

                  “Did the lights ever turn off on you if you were sitting still at your desk?”

                  Some hotels have these kind of lights in the washrooms that are in the more public areas — like the ones near the meeting rooms. Or maybe they’re programmed to automatically be on during a certain time of the day and be motion activated at night. Problem is, if you go into the stall, there’s no movement being recorded… and then suddenly it will be pitch dark. I get that energy conservation is important but damnit, it’s not fun struggling to get yourself together enough in the dark to open a door to turn the lights back on again.

                3. +1*

                  @Dynamic Beige: OldJob had this in the restroom- one downside to being the only person in there. The lights were activated by standing near the sinks, so you can only imagine, lol!

                4. Kelly L.*

                  I had this happen once in college! It was a creepy old bathroom, too, and with no windows, it was pitch black all of a sudden.

              2. JB (not in Houston)*

                I am a little sad that so many of my coworkers have started getting here early. When I first started here, there would be nobody on my side of the office for at least 20 minutes. It was nice!

          2. Michele*

            Laboratories tend to be large rooms in big buildings. There is something really satisfying about seeing all of the lights turn on ahead of me down the hallway and seeing the lab emerge from the dark.

        2. VintageLydia USA*

          I am SOOO not a morning person but I wish I were for the same reason. I used to volunteer for the 4AM shift at the store. No customers, no phone calls, just a delivery truck and an open bay door letting in cool morning breezes in what is ordinarily a stuffy stock room. Also I was out of work by noon or 2PM, depending on if it was an 8 or 10 hour shift. More than enough time to eat, shower, nap, run errands, do housework, and be ready to go do things with my friends who worked more standard hours.

          1. VintageLydia USA*

            Oh and I remember temping for 3 weeks as a receptionist in DC. It was a beautiful building forking for a foundation You Maybe Heard Of and one of the prettiest building You Definitely Know Of. I would get there 20-30 minutes before office hours, before anyone but the security guards, to stand at the balcony overlooking the atrium with it’s giant columns and a cup of coffee.

            That job was so cush. Paid more per hour than I’ve ever been paid for in my life to answer phones, surf Facebook, and gaze at gorgeous architecture. The climate control sucked, though.

              1. Nom d'pixels*

                This is one of those “how does anyone learn English if they weren’t raised with it things?” Those words don’t rhyme. That bothers me.

        3. Melissa*

          Meee tooo. I’m not naturally a morning person either – I guess I’m something of a late-morning-person – but these days I would much rather get to the office at 7 am and leave at 5 than get there at 9 and leave at 7. I’m the only one in the office, it’s quiet, I get the best parking spots and I feel fresh and happy and ready.

      3. AnonAnalyst*

        There are some people like this in my office who constantly get props for their dedication to the job. What goes unnoticed is that they usually come in an hour late (on the rare occasions this is noticed, this is written off as “they were here so late last night!”), spend 2 hours at lunch, and spend most of the actual work day chatting with coworkers.

        I leave on time almost every day. To accomplish this, I come in early and usually work through lunch, and while I do chat with coworkers, I try to keep it contained to short blocks of time so I can get my work done. Despite the fact that I get a lot more done on a regular basis, I never hear anything about how dedicated I am to my job. I guess I could change my ways to screw around all day and then have to finish all my work after everyone else leaves to improve the perception, but it’s only a matter of time before I leave this job so I’m not really motivated to do that.

      4. Bio-Pharma*

        I was more of the typical-later-schedule grad student, but a really good postdoc (mom who lived in the ‘burbs) worked 9-5, but she was SO efficient that every minute/experiment counted!!! You’re totally right that many students who works really late actually also take a lot of breaks (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

  4. Seal*

    OP2 – As someone who has generally been the outlier with regards to work schedule most of my career, I feel your pain. I have never been a morning person and am far more productive working a 9-6 schedule. All of my supervisors have been fine with this so long as the work gets done. I have also demonstrated that I am more than willing to come in early or stay late if necessary. And yet at every job there has always been at least one person who complains about my work schedule. The issue has never been my competence or productivity; in every case the complaint has boiled down to someone (specifically, an average-to-low performer) thinking I’m getting away with something because I don’t work the same schedule as they do. My guess is that if everyone worked the same hours these people would find someone or something else to target.

    In addition to making sure your coworkers know your work schedule, you might want to mention something to your boss about it as well. Since you are working 7-4 with their blessing they certainly should be willing to back you up with your coworkers. I’d also suggest keeping an eye on your schedule-obsessed coworker. He sounds like a bully who may well try another tactic to undermine you once it’s been made clear that he’s getting nowhere by lying about your work schedule.

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      In my Dream Job, I worked 8:30-ish to 5-ish with a half hour lunch break in a company where the bulk of the employees worked Noon-8pm. A couple of them whined to me one day when I left at 5pm (which was actually early for me) saying, “You always get to leave early.” I replied good-naturedly, “If you come into the office at 8am, you too can leave at 5.” They’re respond, “What?! No way – that’s too early!”

  5. Matt*

    #2 this could be my place … although for me it’s not a negotiated schedule, but my schedule of choice in a rather flexible flextime regulation (core time 9-1, start 6-9 am, leave 1-10 pm). I usually work 7-4, while many of my coworkers prefer something between 8-5 and 9-6 (some literally punch in minutes before 9 every day). One could certainly scold me for “not being a team player” in not matching my schedule to the majority of my coworkers (as this point was brought up in the “face time” topic some days ago), but I stay later if it’s really necessary … however I do get invitations for late meetings, and I decline them if it’s not really urgent. And almost every day in the morning there are missed calls on my phone (unanswered emails as well, of course, which I answer early next morning), and I have developed a bit of a reputation of “never reachable”. On the other hand, I really enjoy working early in the morning, undisturbed because no one calls me ;-)

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      My flex time is really generous. No one cares when you do your work, as long as you do it. Building opens at 6 am and security kicks you out at 8 pm. Those are the only constraints. And not working more than 10 h a day, as that’s forbidden in Germany.

      1. GiantPanda*

        Limits for me are very similar:
        Flex time between Mon-Fri 6am-8pm, Sat 6am-1pm. Anything outside must be approved by management. The office must be covered by at least one person Mon-Fri 7am-6pm; and you are supposed to show up for scheduled meetings.
        I am the only one in our group who tends to come in at 11am (if nothing is scheduled), and all my morning-person-colleagues are grateful.

    2. Zillah*

      I’m confused – is there something wrong with punching in a couple minutes before 9 when you’re scheduled to work 9-6??

      1. Matt*

        No, nothing wrong – it’s flex time, nobody is “scheduled”, everyone is free to choose when to come and leave (as long as no special orders are given) during the time windows I mentioned, 9 is the latest time to come. I don’t care when coworkers arrive, even if they would be late it’s not my business, but I noticed those arriving very close to 9 are also those who stay late (of course, since everyone has to complete his/her scheduled 40 hours per week on average), and therefore those who send me late meetings, call me late, and complain that they don’t reach me late ;-)

  6. Nervous Accountant*

    I think People comment on schedules and times here but in the opposite way. Our schedule is 9:30-6:30 and during a casual group chat a few people (myself included) said we’d love the option of being able to come in early (8-5 etc). The only others who have this flex schedule are students who have class at night and my boss and one other coworker are the only non students w that schedule.

    1. Bekx*

      My last job had those hours and I would get so miserable during the winter because I’d be leaving work in complete darkness.

      Now I work 8 – 4:30 with a half hour lunch and I love it!

  7. Apollo Warbucks*

    #2 Your co-worker is a jerk, apart form telling what your working hours are I’d maybe take a look at your calendar settings you should be able to define the hours you work (or periods of busy time) and not automatically reject meetings outside of those times. Some calendars will also let you decline an invitation purposing a new time, so you could do that and add a note that your working day finishes at 15:00

  8. hbc*

    OP2: I used to get into the office around 6:15 and leave around 3:30, and there were a couple of people who would make comments about it on the occasions when they saw me on my way out. I’d even sometimes feel like I was cheating somehow. But then I had a few times where I had to stay until 5 or so, and the place was a freaking ghost town by 4:30, and you can bet that the nosy commenters who rolled in around 8:30 were leaving as soon as their managers were gone.

    People who make comments about different schedules are telling you they don’t believe you’re getting work done when they can’t see you, but the reason they don’t believe it is because they don’t get work done unless someone is there to watch.

    1. neverjaunty*


      I think there’s also some irrational resentment there that Fergus isn’t acknowledging. I used to work with a guy who worked 6 am-6 pm every day because he had evening commitments. This was known to all. And yet there were people who would snarl because even though they knew he had been there all day (and worked longer hours than they did) they had this feeling that he gets to go home early.

      Of course, if they had been focusing more on their own work they wouldn’t have really noticed.

  9. Kateyjl*

    #1: if possible, I would change my IM settings to show me away after more minutes. Also, I’d mention to my boss that there are times when I’m at my desk working just not using the computer so the IM might not reflect that. I might be on the phone discussing issues or talking with someone. Good luck to you.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I change the status to busy or do not disturb so it shows as inactive most of the time.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, as far as I can tell our IM system only considers clicks within the program as activity, so if I’m working on a spreadsheet for an hour and not touching my IMs/emails it will show me as away for 45 minutes out of that time. It’s really not a good measure of whether someone is working or not.

      1. OP1*

        Yeah, it doesn’t work that way. Our IM is hooked up to our webcam, so as soon as I step away from my desk, the webcam sees an empty chair and marks me as “away 5 minutes” to start. Plus, I sit right in front of him. He’s using it to monitor my time gone like a stopwatch, he knows I’m not at my desk.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Wow. That is a level of scrutiny that is just… I can’t even.

          Too bad he sits so near you. Some people around here put mannequins or cardboard cutouts in their passenger seats so they can use the HOV lane and make it look like they aren’t alone in the car. I’m not saying that’s right, but a webcam that tracks whether or not you’re at your seat? There must be (I would hope there is) some really good story or reason for that. (and please let it not involve a Duck Club)

        2. JMegan*


          I was going to say you must work for my old boss, who did the same thing with IM (although slightly more justified since we were in different cities, but no less annoying as an adult and a professional.) But the webcam thing…wow, that’s just obnoxious.

        3. The Abominable Dr Phibes*

          I’d like to know what IM software is being used to do this? OP1, I understand you might not want to say to maintain your anonymity. But does anyone else have a guess?

          One thought is that if there is a mobile version of the IM software, to run that, as well. It may (or may not) make it more difficult to accurately track your presence.

        4. DMented Kitty*

          Whaaaat? Wow. This is the first time I’ve heard IM hooked to a webcam. That’s pretty intrusive.

          I don’t think anyone monitors IM activity around here, besides I always lock my computer when I leave my desk so it automatically switches my status to ‘Away’. A lot of the people just have a custom status set up as ‘Away’ when in fact they are still at their desks, so it’s not really an accurate measure for a busybody who thinks IM can be used to track people’s comings and goings.

          I don’t video chat a lot so all of my laptops have a piece of electrical tape covering the webcam. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t want anyone to be able to hack in and use the webcam discreetly.

    3. Becky B*

      I agree. This may not work at all since he can see you with his own eyeballs, but if your IM allows it, you can also manually override the system settings so that you are responsible for switching your status to Away/Inactive.

    4. puddin*

      Perhaps you do not even log in to IM. If you love it for the true communication purpose of it, then this might not be an option though.

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    #4: Ugh, that stinks. And people wonder why employees are so reluctant to give feedback.

    1. Sans*

      And I don’t think Alison mentioned one other important point – this was supposed to be anonymous feedback. So not only did he get a defensive reply, he shouldn’t have gotten a reply at all, because they shouldn’t have been able to tell who gave the feedback.

      And this is why companies can’t get honest replies when they conduct “anonymous” surveys.

      1. SystemsLady*

        Yup. My company sent out a survey that ended up being *completely* anonymous…but because nobody trusted that, very few people specified their work group and as a result the higher-ups openly had trouble figuring out where the highly split answers to certain questions with lower satisfaction percentages were coming from.

        Though a lot of the employees certainly knew…it’s just that now there’s no guaranteed anonymous way to tell them!

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      Because unfortunately some people think “feedback” is a synonym for “praise.” You don’t know, until it’s too late, what they were truly seeking and it was just a version of “Everything is Awesome!”

      1. OP#4*

        Thanks for the validation, all. The weird thing is, my suggestion was in no way directed towards her, so I was floored that she took it so personally. And, we just got an email scolding those who haven’t responded yet, so just ignoring isn’t an option. Next time, I’ll think of a compliment and leave it at that.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          If she took the time to scold you for a comment about improving communication that was general, someone else must have mentioned it, or she herself noticed that she was falling down on the job of relaying the information appropriately/things were slipping through the cracks. It’s one thing to know you’re screwing up, but another to have it be pointed out — and she probably just freaked out at the idea of exposure. Still, the lesson she taught you is: I don’t want to hear anything that is bad and when I tell you it’s anonymous, it’s not and you will be singled out later if you write something I don’t like.

    3. Beancounter in Texas*

      I never cease to be amazed that people who ask for honest, anonymous feedback become furious for actually getting for what they asked. I only expect toddlers to do that.

  11. Phyllis*

    #2: I bet Fergus is real popular with his other co-workers as well, scheduling meetings at the end of the day. /eye roll.

    1. NJ anon*

      Late meetings are the worst! It’s like having algebra last period in high school. Can’t. Stay. Awake.

        1. Beancounter in Texas*

          I had calculus after lunch in high school. Some days it was seriously hard to focus.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        There’s a Friday 4pm meeting where I work, to review all technical failures for the week. It’s called the Friday Failure Forum. It was so unpopular that they had to move it to a nearby pub, so it’s now called the Foamy Friday Failure Forum.

        (both names invented by me, although I don’t attend the meeting).

  12. ITPuffNStuff*

    #3 — unfortunately, in IT positions (particularly when there is only one developer), “emergency” is the automatic label stamped on anything someone doesn’t want to wait for (regardless of whether waiting leads to actual consequences, or whether the “emergency” was preventable by actual planning). if your company didn’t hire another developer, and given the comments from the boss that you will not be completely unavailable, management will almost certainly translate the expectation from “you are on FMLA leave” to “you are working full time from home”.

    if your boss is willing to make unreasonable presumptions to begin with, he/she is willing to back up those presumptions with unreasonable expectations. if this is the case with your boss, it leaves you with 3 options:

    1. find another job
    2. take legal action against your employer
    3. live with it

    your boss knows options 1 and 2 are not in your best interest, and is happy to exploit that fact to push you into #3. this may sour relationships in the long run and eventually cost your boss a valuable employee, but most business managers seem willing to accept those longer term risks in exchange for shorter term gains.

    i sincerely hope to be wrong about all of this, but that is the culture i’ve observed in the 3 places i’ve worked.


  13. Kala*

    OP 2, I wonder if you and your coworker are both being unnecessarily indirect with this, and that has escalated your confrontation. Your hours are his business because he has to schedule meetings with you (and presumably work around other people’s schedules too)

    Saying “please check my calendar to determine my availability” is a two step process that doesn’t inform him of whether or not your schedule is flexible, or whether you’d prefer to stay late on a given day vs being left out of a group meeting. If they are group meetings, it could even be that they are scheduled for later times because he’s working around another employee’s private scheduling concerns, like mid-day doctors appointments. Saying “I’m unable to attend because I work 7-4” is direct, and not defensive at all.

    I actually work at a place that has a culture which rewards staying late (“team player”), and doesn’t notice people who come in early, so I understand what you’re reacting to, though, and it’s frustrating.

    1. LBK*

      I agree, I’m puzzled as to why the OP hasn’t already said “I work 7-4”. It’s a pretty simple and easy to understand statement. We have a wide variety of schedules in my department and I had a handle on them all my first week here; it took all of two seconds to ask each person when they work and when they’re available.

  14. k*

    2- while this is not the op situation (I hope not!) I just wanted to point out another schedule scenario, as it’s happened to us. Boss oks different schedule for new staff member. Boss doesn’t look at organizational needs. So newbie is happy, boss is happy and everyone else is in a spot. What’s strange is that none of those hires have lasted long at all. I’m not sure if the difficulties created by the schedule played a part or what. As a staff we would prefer running thin just a bit longer to find someone who can fill our needs – and I think it would help turnover.

  15. Sunshine Brite*

    OP1: Yikes, this is like an anxiety of mine. We have an IM system and flex work environment so sometimes when “I go stealth” to concentrate – turn off phone ringer and set IM away then I worry about looking like a slacker since I’m at home so no one can see me. I’m not considered to have an emergency position so if I miss a call I can return it in a timely fashion and remain available by email. Has not been an issue because we focus on results and my manager is usually too busy to be checking the IMs like that. My old boss watched the time clock entries like that – it was strange, salaried but clock in/out and get in trouble for working outside of scheduled hours.

    OP2: I would be so tempted to get passive aggressive back. Don’t do that. Allison’s direct approach is much better and more along the lines of what I think I would do once the annoyance spike subsided.

    OP3: It is just plain wrong to go into it with that mindset. Don’t be afraid to pushback on this one because it’s unlikely nothing will break in a 3 month period related to what you do.

    OP4: Timely, I just told a friend to not fill out those feedback forms unless it’s not something linked directly to a person and I don’t do them if I have to give out too much info. On her “anonymous” survey, it was compiled using exact quotes and not paraphrases as presented to her. It was then used as the parting quotes to win an award that excluded her and the supervisor she was providing positive feedback to.

    OP5: Why didn’t your boyfriend confirm prior to interviewing/providing the supervisory information that using them as a reference would be ok? I’ve always reached out to update contact information, titles, etc. It would be worthwhile to follow-up, but he may have avoided this doing that work on the front end. Especially if he was local and could’ve offered to treat his former supervisor to coffee and discuss goals, what’s happened in the last few years, etc.

    1. Mz. Puppie*

      Sunshine, when you go stealth, I’d set your IM to “Do Not Disturb” rather than “Away”. Slightly better optics, and it costs you nothing.

  16. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP #1: It became a joke in my house when one of us had to “toggle the mouse” every 20 minutes so my boss would know I was around. I worked remotely and on many days had NOTHING to do, and yet she still monitored me. One colleague got reprimanded for being “away” too often, but during those times she was often reading/editing materials that she printed. It’s a terrible way to treat senior employees (any employees, really). Take Alison’s advice, but… yeah. If I were you, I’d start looking elsewhere.

    1. Graciosa*

      I think staying in this position unless the boss really has a significant change of heart (unlikely) is a losing proposition.

      This is a boss who thinks that managing means that you know everything that everyone on your team is doing every minute of the day, thereby proving that you are in charge and in control. This is a boss who is not comfortable managing for results; he’s afraid that if he is not watching, someone will do something bad and he will be at fault for not being there to stop it immediately, thus failing to do his job. Managing for results requires trusting people (not completely – you’re still monitoring results – but at least a little), and he does not.

      The irony is that these tactics drive employee performance down rather than up. People find ways around whatever systems are used (we’ve already seen suggestions on how to manage your apparent status on IM here). This not only wastes time and energy that could be used more productively, but the need to do this also sets the employees in opposition to the manager.

      Employees who see you as the enemy are not going to come and alert you to a problem or ask for help; they’re too busy avoiding you.

      In this case, I think the OP’s best long-term strategy is to avoid this boss permanently by finding a job with a boss who knows he’s not employing child labor.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I have a toggling the house tic that has developed because of this. Not that I ma being monitored but I don’t want it to go yellow if I am sitting at my desk.

      1. OP1*

        “This is a boss who is not comfortable managing for results; he’s afraid that if he is not watching, someone will do something bad and he will be at fault for not being there to stop it immediately, thus failing to do his job.” EXACTLY. He has a ton of anxiety and I’m his only direct report.

  17. Nom d'pixels*

    OP#1, are you honestly sure that you have been working full days? A salaried report of mine has been productivity problems and was not working full days. We have flexible start times, but everyone has to be here by a certain time unless it is otherwise agreed upon. We had conversations about her arriving late and leaving early (her office is two doors down from mine so I would walk past and notice that she wasn’t here), and she would get better for a while, then revert to her old habits. Recently, I noticed that she was more than 40 minutes late two days in a row, and when I talked to her about it, she denied it and said that she was only 15 minutes late. After that, I started having her email me when she arrives and when she leaves. It does function as a time card, because it was rare for her to work more than 7 hours a day, and this holds her accountable.

    1. LBK*

      Is she actually getting all the work done that she needs to get done? If so, who cares, really? Are you paying her to work 40 hours or are you paying her to complete the work that’s assigned to her?

      1. Nom d'pixels*

        No, I wouldn’t pay attention to her hours if she weren’t having productivity problems. She isn’t completing assignments, then she acts like a martyr when she is given a deadline.

        1. LBK*

          I’d think that’s what would make more sense to focus your efforts on rather than clocking her in and out, which sounds frankly exhausting and annoying to track on your end. If she starts completing all her work, the 40 hours should follow pretty naturally from there out of necessity.

          1. Nom d'pixels*

            It is annoying, but it is also part of keeping her accountable and tracking chronic problems so disciplinary action can be taken if needed. She is one of those people who always has an excuse for everything. Where I work, disciplinary matters take forever after a person has been here for more than a year, so I need to have my end covered.
            Since I have implemented this, she seems to be taking things more seriously and understanding that she is being watched and held accountable. She is getting more done.

            1. Blue_eyes*

              In this case tracking her hours sounds like a good idea. Plus you’ll have a long paper trail with specifics on her hours if you need to pursue disciplinary action or try to fire her. Someone who’s not putting in a full workday everyday does not get to complain about deadlines.

              1. Nom d'pixels*

                It especially set me off when she lied about when she was coming in. If she hadn’t sat there and lied to me, I wouldn’t have demanded documentation. That is why I asked the OP if they were being honest about how much they were working or getting done.

                1. Blue_eyes*

                  You’re definitely going to want that documentation…Someone who comes in late, lies about it, and complains about actually having to, you know, do work? I hope she improves under the increased scrutiny, or that you will eventually have enough documentation to fire her.

                2. OP1*

                  That’s at the heart of my question. Maybe I work 7.5 hours one day, but then another day I work 9 because there’s a rush job. I feel it all comes out in the wash. I certainly didn’t deny I was gone for 1 hour, 10 minutes. My productivity and results are outstanding – I just got high marks on my review and I’m always willing to stay late. I’ve even taken on the ‘grunt work’ of the team – updating the team work site, scheduling team trainings.

                  I guess it’s work styles – I sprint and recover. I’d rather work all-out for 2 hours and accomplish a lot, then go run errands at lunch. My manager likes to come in from 8 am – 7 pm with no breaks and eats at his desk daily. He’s so disorganized he makes my head hurt.

    2. Sadsack*

      Your comment is perplexing to me. OP has stated that his schedule is 7-4 and that a coworker is always looking for him after 4 and making comments about his leaving early. I don’t really understand the correlation between OP’s issue and your experience with your employee.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        I think Nom d’pixels was commenting on OP #1 (the person whose boss is tracking them via IM), not OP #2.

  18. Nom d'pixels*

    OP#4, a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago, is to never provide honest feedback up the food chain. If you trust someone, you can make suggestions, but even that has to be done diplomatically. They really don’t want to hear anything that they construe as criticism.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Right here with you. I can be pretty honest with my current supervisor, but when it comes to anyone above him, it’s “smile and nod, smile and nod” all the way.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Then why the F do companies ask for the feedback? To check off a box saying they did it?!

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I think it’s one of those “a little of Column A, a little of Column B” situations.

        Sometimes it’s just to check off a box.

        Sometimes, I think, they genuinely believe that they want feedback. But what they’re expecting is to be told (to quote a recent movie) “Everything Is Awesome.” And when it doesn’t go that way, the higher-ups get offended/defensive. And the response is to blame or attack whoever gave the feedback.

        So, as unfortunate as it is, too many employees have been taught through painful experience that “We want your feedback, no, really” actually means “Tell us how great we are and how much you love working here,” and if you don’t agree, best keep your mouth shut.

        And sometimes they actually want feedback and are as prepared to deal with the negative as with the positive. But if their employees have had experience with the previous models, the employees are unlikely to trust the sincerity of the request because, as the saying goes “the burned hand teaches best.”

        Unfortunately, there’s a lot of dysfunctional management out there, and in some ways, good managers do end up paying a price for that. Not getting honest feedback from employees who have been “burned” in the past is one manifestation of this.

  19. Workfromhome*


    I’d be looking for a new job ASAP (Easier said than done I know)
    As long as you have this manger not only will your work life be hell but your future looks pretty dim also. A manager who feels the need to not only monitor but to badger a senior employee over time at their desk in 5 minute increments?

    This manager is not only bad but they are insecure and fearful of their employees. You think someone who is watching your IM and worried about you being 5 minutes late after lunch is going to be concerned about your career,your promotions or well being? Nope they are scred of anyone more talented than them and wants to keep people down to preserve their own postion. Get outta there if you can.

  20. TotesMaGoats*

    #3-I would say though that setting up a contingency plan shouldn’t be entirely on your boss. I got the impression from your letter that you felt that it was their responsibility. While they should be guiding that process, I do think some, if not all, of that should be something you should’ve been doing. I had document put together for my staff and my boss before I went on maternity that covered contingencies and things like that. While I agree that you shouldn’t be working while on leave, you should have been putting together a plan.

    1. Kyrielle*

      However, what exactly can one plan if the organization has declined to hire someone with the skillset needed? If there’s no one who *can* pick up, what’s the plan? Also, planning for which piece of software will break how is pretty much impossible – if you know that, you fix it beforehand so it can’t. If the software is already well-written and well-documented, it might just be a matter of hoping someone (perhaps a temp, if there are no other software engineers at the company) can have a look at the documentation and code, and fix it.

      The only question I have is whether this employee meets the “key employee” test in all other regards, because if they do need to hire a developer to replace them during leave, since it’s a unique position in the org, that could bring the key employee provision into play, potentially – but only if they’re salaried and meet the highest-paid 10% requirements.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        But why wouldn’t you put in some sort of plan? You can’t plan for everything but I don’t know a boss who wouldn’t appreciate someone who tried to plan for as much as possible. I was out on FMLA for 14 weeks and put together a plan because my organization wouldn’t hire a replacement for that time period.

        1. justcourt*

          This employee seems to be a little bit different because he/she is the only person who performs and knows his/her role. In that case the work really falls onto the employers to approve cross-train or hire temporary workers.

    2. BananaPants*

      I agree. I’ve had to work with my manager with both of my maternity leaves thus far to actively do coverage planning for my absence. The family leave request forms signed by all parties actually say that coverage planning for the absence (when there is sufficient forewarning) is the joint responsibility of the employee and their supervisor.

      With my second baby I essentially had to outline my own coverage plan and bring it to him for review because he was swamped and kept thinking my due date was a month later than it was. I kept bringing it up, he wasn’t engaging in the planning process, so I did it for him – for my own peace of mind. I listed my key tasks, prioritized them, and for each I recommended a coworker who would be able to either cover it actively or to be available to answer questions or issues if they came up. It was better to just make sure it got done rather than risking something going uncovered and having it reflect badly on me, or coming back from maternity leave and having ten crises on my plate to deal with on the first day back.

      OP3, this is your first rodeo so it’s understandable – yes, your manager should have been working on this with you, but you should have been putting together a coverage plan a lot sooner than a week or two before your wife’s due date. Go in on Monday with a proposal for coverage for what you think the most-likely issues or tasks are, and if there’s any coworker you know of who could cover each of them. Try to spread it out among several people if you can so that half your workload isn’t getting dumped on a colleague with little warning.

      1. FMLA Guy*

        This has already been done for the tasks that can be covered. But, like I’ve explained elsewhere, 90% of my job can’t be done by anyone else. There is no way to spread my work out to other people because they don’t know how to do my job…they aren’t programmers.

    3. FMLA Guy*

      OP here..

      That’s not at all realistic for my situation. I could document the entire codebase from top to bottom (it actually already is very well documented), and it wouldn’t do a damn bit of good because there is nobody else here that can write code. There also isn’t anyone for me to transfer knowledge to. Everyone else is a system administrator or helpdesk person…there are no other developers and only one person that has any experience with database systems.

      For the database-related tasks that can be done in my absence, I have documented them and talked to one of our system administrators about it. Beyond that, there really isn’t anything I could have done differently. At the time I told my boss, he was also explaining that we were probably going to hire another developer soon and I had mentioned how that would help ease the burden while I was on paternity leave. Those plans fell through, and that was not my fault.

  21. justcourt*

    I had two co-workers who worked from 6:30am – 3:00pm. Their manager was so good about reminding everyone to contact them before 3:00pm and to not expect a response until the next day on any emails/calls made after 3.

    I wonder if OP #2 could ask his/her boss to issue a similar reminder to staff.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      This would be a good idea. Then Fergus will know (although I suspect he already does) that OP’s schedule is approved by management and will make any future grousing about it seem immature and tone-deaf.

  22. Sans*

    #2 — For 20 years, I’ve begun my day at 7 or 7:30 and therefore left before most others. At the first company I did that, they had official flex time, where you came in anytime between 7 – 9:30, and then left between 3:30 and 6. I took the earliest option and it’s amazing how many people felt I was slacking off, yet someone who came in at 9:30 and left at 6 (same number of hours)was looked at as a hard worker who stayed late. She thought it was ridiculous, too. She worked the schedule that worked best for her life, as did I. It never occurred to people that when they came in at 9:30 I had already been there for 2.5 hours. If they don’t see it, it didn’t happen. Perception is reality, indeed…

  23. Retail Lifer*

    #4 After making an “anonymous” compalint to HR which almost got me fired because it wasn’t kept anonymous, I always assume that anything I say might be shared. We recently had a survey in which we were assured all answers would be anonymous but it still asked for our name and employee number, so I made up a name and number.

  24. Rebecca*

    #1 I am amused that this manager has time to constantly monitor his or her employees’ IM status, and time to needle them about whether they appear busy or not. As someone who has to be online with not only IM, but two of them because not everyone is on one system or the other, I’d be more concerned if I saw my employee constantly on IM rather than working on things. They could be IM’ing friends and family for all you know, and without checking the log, you would think one person is busy, while they’re actually goofing off, and that another person is goofing off, when they’re doing actual work.

    Are we sure this isn’t a cartoon strip come to life?

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      I’m assuming that the OP’s office has an internal IM system so employees could only be IMing each other, not friends or family. But clearly the manager doesn’t have enough actual work to do if s/he is scrutinizing the OP’s IM habits this closely. Might be worth sending this up the food chain…?

    2. The IT Manager*

      Lync IM uses color codes.
      – Green (available and working)
      – Red (busy, in a meeting)
      – Yellow terrible yellow which means you’re away or just haven’t touched your keyboard and mouse in X minutes which could mean you’re away from your desk or you’re doing non-computer work.

      1. Rebecca*

        I am on both Lync and AOL Instant Messenger. And you’re right – in Lync, just because my status is Yellow doesn’t mean I’m not doing my work. I could be in a meeting, helping a coworker with something at their desk, or taking my break. It doesn’t mean I’m goofing off. And if it relies on mouse clicks – heck, I could be playing Solitaire, and it would show green status. None of these are good indicators if I’m actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

      2. Nerdling*

        For us, yellow could also mean we’re working hard on a different computer system (we have at least two and possibly as many as five or six, depending on your job role; it’s insane).

      3. Sans*

        If someone wanted to track me via Lync, that would be a problem. I’m a writer. A lot of times, I begin a piece with paper and pen. I do a lot of scrawling and crossing out before I’m ready to start typing it up. I also read a lot of background material before I get going. My status would be yellow A LOT. But I’m working the whole time.

  25. A Jane*

    #1 – I feel for you, OP. Managers equating IM availability to working is ridiculous, especially when there are applications you can set up to show your activity.

  26. Mike C.*


    Perhaps it’s time to send out near constant updates as to how you’re using your time to your boss. Find a scheduling program that will allow for email to be sent to your boss every five minutes discussing what you happen to be working on. Just one or two word emails saying, “Project X” or “Break” or so on.

    Ensure that the program is running after work as well, you don’t want your boss to accuse you of lying by omission.

    I’m only half serious here, but the whole, “I caught you smoking, so I’m going to make you sit here and smoke the whole pack” tends to work out pretty well.

  27. puddin*

    ‘Believe what people show you about themselves.’

    One of the best lines I have seen written. I try to see things from a behavioral perspective, this is my new catch phrase for that.

  28. S.*

    When I was on maternity leave, I had a similiar request..would I be able to do a little part time work on a project. I was thinking about it, but then realized with a Leave of Absence, I was getting my medical benefits paid. If I worked less than 25hours/week, I would be part time and not eligible for medical benefits. I just stuck with the complete LOA and did not do official work (perhaps answered questions).

  29. MsChanandlerBong*

    Instant messaging is one of the many reasons I’m now self-employed. When I was just out of college, I took a job as a legal assistant for an attorney who was obsessed with efficiency. When I started working for him, he had me sign on to AIM every time I came into work. He’d give me assignments via IM, which was fine, but then he’d yell at me if I didn’t use abbreviations such as LMK for “let me know.” I type 115 WPM, so me typing “let me know” took absolutely no time at all, and it actually took me MORE time to use the abbreviation because I had to stop and think about it. But he’d literally scream at me if I didn’t use acronyms and abbreviations for everything. He’d also get mad if I didn’t use keyboard shortcuts (he hired me because I was the only one he interviewed who knew that Ctrl+E was the shortcut for centering text).

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        Sometimes he’d watch me type. Other times, he’d send me an IM and expect me to reply back with all the abbreviations/acronyms. If I didn’t, he got mad.

        1. DMented Kitty*

          I hope when you handed in your notice, your last word(s) to him was “KTHXBAI”.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            He also made me clock out to pee. Which I am pretty sure now is illegal. So…he wasn’t great.

    1. Jamie*

      I think I worked for his twin in a different industry. No yelling, but standing over my shoulder watching me type and correcting me for using a comma instead of a semi-colon because “even though the comma is correct the semi-colon is more aesthetically pleasing.”

      And on his days off would call and read me all the emails that were sent to both of us to make sure we were “on the same page.”

      Yes…he read my emails to me. Out loud. To make sure I understood them.

      Apparently I’d neglected to mention I can also read.

      (None was in response to errors – this was right from jump. Also introduced me to people as his assistant and that was neither my title or position.)

      Take solace in the fact that these tedious little power misers are invariably miserable.

      1. Calliope*

        “even though the comma is correct the semi-colon is more aesthetically pleasing.”

        I am judging him. *So* judging him. I wouldn’t be able to work for this guy because I wouldn’t be able to hide my “I am judging you and I find you wanting” face.

      2. Nom d'pixels*

        Sorry, but I just laughed at your pain. It was the “asthetically pleasing” that really got me.

    2. Elder Dog*

      I left two different jobs because I had managers like this and couldn’t keep a straight face. I was written up for “insubordination” at each of them, and quit while I was ahead.

  30. Mockingjay*

    OP #1: Most IM systems allow you to adjust your status settings. If yours does, I would turn off the away/idle feature, or set it for a large number of minutes.

    If your IM system doesn’t do that, can you use a universal chat client like Pidgin? I run two chat programs through Pidgin. You can set preferences in Pidgin which will show up on your office chat system.

    Unfortunately, these workarounds don’t address the fact that your manager sucks.

  31. ggg*

    #5 — I know someone who has given information about the wrong person! Even worse, it was part of a security investigation. Spent the better part of an hour giving all the dirt on Jim X when really Jim Y was under investigation. They figured it out in time, thank goodness. But then they had to go through the whole interview again, regarding the right Jim.

  32. John R*

    #2: My experience is that co-workers who belittle or try to make it seem like others aren’t doing their share are usually the ones who are slacking off themselves.

    If you’re doing a good job, you show that in your work, not by trying to put down a co-worker.

    When I was a manager, employees who constantly complained about what other people were doing was always a red flag to me that the complaining employee was one to be watched.

    I’m not saying that employee complaints are never valid, just that chronic complainers should spend more time on their own work and less time worrying about someone else’s.

  33. RubyJackson*

    Where I work, it is very difficult to get to the work site because of traffic. So, some people beat the traffic and come in at 6 am and leave around 3 pm. Others that live closer to the site work a traditional shift 9-6. I, on the other hand, come in at 11am and stay until 8pm. I am constantly hearing comments about how ‘it must be nice’ to come in so late, but no one thinks about how ‘nice’ it is to be at work until 8pm (or later). The hours that someone works are no body’s business but theirs and their supervisor’s, as long as they are meeting all of their obligations and deadlines.

  34. Purr purr purr*

    OP#2, I have nothing to add other than my commiserations. I get into the office at 8.30am at the latest so I can (usually) be gone by 4.30pm, although it rarely works out like that, and I despise it when people say I’m leaving early when I’m actually leaving on time. Most days I actually leave late! People will always assume you arrived just five minutes before them and then act like a jerk when you leave an hour before them. Also, that meeting scheduling needs to stop. Talk to him and if that doesn’t work, escalate to your manager.

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