do I owe my coworkers an explanation about my FMLA leave?

A reader writes:

I am currently taking FMLA leave to care for a terminally ill parent. My absences are intermittent and all my PTO is used up every pay cycle. I cleared it with HR that I can come in early when I can in order to make up unpaid hours after my PTO is used, as we always need help and to lessen the impact of my time off to care for my parent.

I have a particular coworker who has been passively-aggressively whining around me about who she “should talk to about being able to work early to make up time for her scheduled appointments instead of having to use PTO” and why should SHE have to use PTO when OTHER people don’t have to?

She has no clue what she is talking about, and I feel strongly that I don’t owe her any explanation regarding my FMLA.

Today, she did the same whining in front of everyone at a team meeting while staring directly at me! She even insinuated she will visit HR with her “concerns.” I’m not sure why she can’t mind her business, nor do I care about her opinion. (She is more than welcome to step in and singlehandedly care for my parent 24/7 while putting food on her table any time if she is so jealous.) I am concerned, however, about the impact her complaining will have on other coworkers’ perception of me and fear that this will become a witch hunt. I do my work and have discussed my FMLA with only HR and my manager, as I want no accusations of trying to “get sympathy” from anyone. I have enough problems and no time for the drama. Is this woman owed an explanation?

No, she’s not owed an explanation at all.

However, you might be more likely to get the outcome you want by giving her and others some context, if you’re willing to.

To be clear, she is totally out of line. Her comments are obnoxious, and your time off is none of her business unless it’s impacting her, and if it is, she should be addressing that forthrightly, not making snide comments. And you’re under no obligation to share the details of your leave with your coworkers.

However, the reality is that if it looks to others like you suddenly have a really flexible schedule when they don’t, not everyone will think “Oh, there’s probably a good reason for this and I should mind my own business.” Some people will wonder if you’re slacking on your hours or getting special treatment for an unfair reason. This isn’t right, but it’s often human nature. Of course, most people won’t be rude about it like your coworker is, but it’s true that people who notice may wonder, and it can go a lot more smoothly if you’re willing to say something to explain.

You don’t need to share personal details if you don’t want to; there’s range of things that you could say. For example, to the rest of your coworkers (not the obnoxious one, who I’ll get to in a minute), you could say one of these:

* “I want to let you know that I’ve been working a different schedule than normal because of some family health issues. I’ve worked out an arrangement with Jane and HR, but wanted to give you a heads-up too.”

* “I’m taking intermittent FMLA leave so you may notice me working different or fewer hours than usual.”

* “My mom is very sick and I’m using FMLA to take care of her. I wanted to give you a heads-up because it’s going to be impacting my schedule for a while.” (I know you said you don’t want to explain the details lest you be seen as chasing sympathy, but unless your coworkers are horrid people, it isn’t going to come across that way. But again, it’s your call and you can use one of the more vague options above if you prefer.)

To your obnoxious coworker who’s making the comments, I’d say this: “Lavinia, do you have concerns about my schedule? You’ve made several remarks about it and I’m not sure what you’re looking for from me. I’ve made specific arrangements to use FMLA leave with Jane and with HR.” (Or, if you don’t even want to mention FMLA — although, again, I think it will benefit you to — you could say, “”Lavinia, I’ve arranged my schedule with Jane and HR. If you have concerns about your own schedule, I encourage you to talk to them.”)

If it continues after that, I’d talk to your manager. Say something like, “Lavinia is regularly complaining about my FMLA leave. I don’t feel comfortable explaining the details to her, and I’ve asked her to stop but it’s continuing and becoming a distraction.”

{ 196 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    OP you have my sympathies. I had to take off more unexpected time from work to deal with my Father-in-law. He had health issues and his wife was wheel chair bound. We didn’t know how bad the situation was until our 2 or 3 visit to them. Each visit ended up being 2 days longer than we had planned because we spent so much time cleaning and helping out. I explained to my coworkers that I had issues with my in-laws and that it would take me away from work unexpectedly on occasion.
    Anyway back to Lavinia. My first instinct is to personally take her aside and explain that you would love to work a normal schedule but you have family issues that prevent you from doing that at the moment. I’d also state that her comments are not making the situation easier on anyone.
    My second line of thought is to ask Lavinia what impact your new schedule is having on her directly. Because if there’s an issue you would love to address it.
    Either way Lavinia sucks.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I agree to the suggestion that you directly ask Lavinia if your new schedule impacts your work. If she says “no” then ask her why she is raising the issue and then stop talking. Let her squirm if needed.
      I might also give a heads up to my manager about this. If a pattern of harassment forms then this could lead to retaliation for taking FMLA. The company would want to prevent this from happening – there are major penalties in place for FMLA retaliation.
      And start keeping a log of this.

    2. Green*

      I wouldn’t say “family issues.” I’d either say nothing, invoke FMLA and leave it at that, or “a very serious illness.”

      “Family issues” could include a lot of things that aren’t protected and the idea here is to shut down further inquiry rather than keep her line of questioning and passive aggressiveness going.

  2. Delyssia*

    The OP is clearly a better person than I am, because in her shoes, particularly being called out (even indirectly) in front of the group, I would have no qualms whatsoever about dropping the bomb of “Frankly, I don’t think it’s any of your business, but my mother is dying, and I’m taking intermittent FMLA to care for her.”

    I don’t actually recommend this approach, but I can’t swear I wouldn’t do it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually think a flat “My mother is dying, and I’m taking intermittent FMLA to care for her” is the way to go — it’s what I would do. But the OP sounds like she doesn’t want to share details, so I wanted to give her other options.

      1. Delyssia*

        Very true. And I hope I didn’t sound unsympathetic to the OP’s desire to keep this to herself. By all means, she is under no obligation to share anything she doesn’t want to.

      2. Artemesia*

        It is such a sad and terrible situation that it would be nice if some good came of it like humiliating the Lavinia’s of the world. I got the call that my father had died while at a professional conference out of state. I immediately got on a plane so I could be there to support my mother asap. Naturally I was feeling quite glum and the giant toad in the seat next to me who brayed ‘Smile, Smile, don’t be such a grump’ was the last straw. I took great pleasure in saying. ‘My father just died this morning so I am not feeling cheery.’ Jerks like this guy and Lavinia deserve this flat put down.

        1. HRish Dude*

          I never understand the strangers who tell people to “smile” when they have absolutely zero idea of what is going on in someone else’s life.

          1. Kyrielle*

            They don’t think of them as people, who might have things going on in their lives.

            They think of them as part of their environment, that isn’t being cheery enough for them and is bringing their mood down.

            1. HRish Dude*

              I’ve also noticed that the people who do this most are the ones who go out of their way to tell everyone what “nice guys” they are.

          2. Merry and Bright*

            Yes. In the UK it is often followed by “It might never happen!” Well, sometimes it just did.

        2. Anon Accountant*

          I hate when people say “smile! It can’t be that bad” when they have NO IDEA what that person just had happen as evidenced by what you posted.

          1. JHS*

            Slightly different, but today in the lunch line of the cafeteria, I asked the guy in front of me if I could step in so I could look at the breads on offer (they start to run really low by the end of the week and sometimes the choices are limited for sandwiches). He made a big deal of asking me how in the world it could matter which breads they had in a way I’m sure he felt was “kidding around” but was actually intended to make fun of me. I turned and point blank said to him “As you can see, I’m 7 months pregnant. I have gestational diabetes and am only allowed to eat bread made up of complex carbohydrates such as rye, whole wheat or multigrain.” He shut right up, but seriously, even if I didn’t have GD, what is it to him why I want to select my bread? Really?

          2. Amanda*

            Someone literally said this to me less than 24 hours after my house burned to the ground, resulting in the loss of not just everything I owned, but also two incredibly beloved pets.

            He was a little shellshocked when I blurted that out at him. Sometimes, IT IS THAT BAD.

        3. Ad Astra*

          Lavinia sucks, but it’s possible she hadn’t considered the fact that the OP is taking time to deal with a serious personal issue. She might be horrified to realize how insensitive her comments sound to someone who knows the whole story. Not everyone’s a monster. But some people suck.

          1. Green*

            But treating someone with compassion and empathy means trying to put yourselves in someone’s shoes to imagine a potentially charitable reason for the behavior (as you did with Lavinia). You do that, but it does not appear Lavinia does. That would explain her ignorance if she was trying to actually address an issue but not the passive aggressive comments in group settings.

          2. Nashira*

            I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s someone in my office who knew why coworker “Georgia” was out on FMLA, but in staff meetings continued to ask our boss why they couldn’t just fire Georgia already. Another person tried to start a cabal to get her fired, as in a literal secret-ish plot. Other coworkers were trying to track how much FMLA she had used, so they’d know when Georgia ran out.

            It was incredibly gross. Some folks can know it all and still think it’s unfair.

        4. afiendishthingy*

          Grrr. I hope he felt horrible for being such an ass and never said that to anyone else.

          I’m sorry for your loss.

        5. Gandalf the Nude*

          To quote Marten Reed, “The first step to recovery is to turn your personal tragedy into a weapon for making others horribly uncomfortable.”

          It’s kind of terrible, but sometimes that little bit of schadenfreude, especially at the expense of someone who’s being really obnoxious, is just what we need to get through a rough day. Plus, occasionally a comment like that is all a person needs to realize they’ve been staring at the inside of their colon.

        6. K.*

          Something similar happened to me – I got a call that my grandmother had died while I was out of town (for recreation). I cut my trip a little short to go home and deal. I was getting on the bus and someone in front of me told me to “Smile, it can’t be that bad!” I replied, flatly, while looking him dead in the eye, “My grandmother just died. We were very close.” He gulped and took his seat.

        7. Person of Interest*

          Same here – When I had to fly to Las Vegas for my grandmother’s funeral, the drunk assholes next to me couldn’t fathom why someone on a plane to Vegas might be sad and teary-eyed, and kept telling me to cheer up every half hour or so, even after I explained the reason. It’s like they couldn’t take me bringing them down on their party trip.

        8. mdv*

          Ha. I was once seated next to a woman on an international flight (US to Germany) who was clearly distraught — so I asked her if she was okay. She said “no”, and I asked if there was any way I could help her…. turned out her mother had just died, and the mom (in her casket) was flying as cargo on the same airplane to be buried in Germany. We ended up talking about it for quite a while since I also have a parent from Germany living in the US, who might like to be buried in Germany… I think she just appreciated the distraction — it was a long flight!

          Your “giant toad” would have totally gotten an ear full from me, too! :)

        9. Fiona the Lurker*

          I’m late to this discussion, but I got the call that my father had died just before six one morning when I was due to start work at eight. Naturally I went to work and quietly told my boss that I was going to need time off for the funeral, then got on with my job as usual. Mid-morning my colleagues seemed to notice that I was very quiet and started complaining about it. I said “I’m sorry, my father died this morning.” They then started demanding to know why I was at work at all, and all but accused my of lying to them to get sympathy. In fact, my family didn’t need my help with anything; they lived a couple of hours away and I’d just driven back from there the evening before. This death was expected and prepared for, and the best thing I could do all round was stay at work and get on with my job. (It’s emphatically what my father would have insisted on, too.) I came to the conclusion that in a situation like this, unless your co-workers are naturally sympathetic people and you have a good relationship, any way you choose to handle it will automatically be wrong.

      3. BRR*

        That’s the “SHUT IT DOWN” version that I also prefer. That might teach the coworker to stop prying into other’s lives. I agree that the coworker seems to want a “I’m currently on an alternative schedule for utilizing some of my FMLA time.”

        Side note, I’m starting to get annoyed at coworkers like this. Raising a stink like this only has malicious intentions (or at least I don’t recall ever reading someone going “I’ve noticed you have to come in early to work, is there anything I can help with?”).

        1. MaryMary*

          Oh, I’ve even seen coworkers raise a stink about people offering to help others. A couple of the whiners in my office were complaining that they had too much to do, so a coworker said that she was all caught up that week and could help out. Next thing you know, the whiners are complaining that some people don’t have enough to do. Some people are just miserable and feel the need to spread misery wherever they go.

    2. Colette*

      In response to “who she should talk to about being able to work early to make up time for her scheduled appointments instead of having to use PTO”, a flat “I arranged my FMLA leave with HR and our manager” might have gotten the point across.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Ooh, I like that–it doesn’t reveal anything painful (I might not want the Lavinias of the world to have that lever). But it makes the point: “this is sanctioned by people who have examined it carefully and who OUTRANK YOU!”

      2. Anonsie*

        That’s what I was thinking as well. “I guess you could talk to HR and Bossperson like I did.” Then stink eye.

      3. Jessa*

        Honestly, Lavinia is a snark and a pain, and a lot of what she’s doing is outrageous.


        If the OP is being allowed to make up hours not covered by PTO due to the fact that she is on FMLA, Lavinia has a genuine right to try and find out if she can make up hours, and if she’s being told no, there’s a problem there. Either making up hours is okay, or it’s not and that should be across the board. Now it is okay to tell Lavinia that she can make up hours, AFTER she has exhausted her PTO, just like the OP has, but still. If they’re going to be flexible about making up hours lost to genuine health issues (whether the employee or family,) then Lavinia kinda sorta has a teensy point.

        However, that being said, she shoulda just gone to HR and asked. Her passive aggressive annoying the OP way of doing that is just not on.

        1. Jennifer*

          Well, Lavinia only has a point if she is similarly situated and is eligible for FMLA. She can’t claim equal treatment if she just wants to have a different schedule. It sounds like Lavinia wants to “work” a flex schedule to obtain more time off. My experience has been most of the people who clamor for flex just want free Friday off and don’t actually want to WORK the full 4x 10 hour days to make up for it!

    3. Adam*

      I’d be very tempted to do the same. I totally respect the OP’s desire to keep the details of her time off to herself and it really is none of this busybody’s business, but if I were in the OP’s shoes I’d have to count to…pretty dang high to keep myself from saying what you said you would have. Some people…

      1. Hotstreak*

        What’s going on with her mother is obviously none of her coworkers business, but the fact that she is receiving different treatment than the rest of the staff is absolutely relevant. Consider you don’t know anything about the mother, or the FMLA.

        Out of the blue one of your coworkers starts working extra hours in the morning to make up for missed time earlier in the week, which is something that you are not allowed to do. You would like to have the ability to flex your schedule, so you wonder aloud and ask your coworker how/why they got that schedule. To quote the letter, “why should she [the coworker] have to use PTO when other people [the OP] don’t have to” is a valid benefits question. Obviously wining is immature and not productive, but beyond the tone issue I don’t see a problem.

        1. Adam*

          I generally frown upon monitoring other people’s schedules unless their erratic timing is affecting me somehow. Based on the letter I don’t think OP’s time out of the office is impacting people so much as it is just causing sour grapes with Salty Sally there. I think a blanket announcement that OP is dealing with a situation that falls under FMLA which will affect how her time in the office is plenty for any of her co-workers.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            I don’t love that either, but I do think that people look to each other to learn the unspoken norms around schedules. So it’s not weird to notice or wonder – just weird to be rude about it.

        2. Sadsack*

          It’s the tone and the fact that she is doing this in front of OPs entire dept. The appropriate thing to do is discuss your use of PTO with your manager, not target a coworker for shaming.

          1. Future Analyst*

            Yes. Lavinia targeting the OP will definitely not make anyone more inclined to give her a more flexible schedule.

        3. Future Analyst*

          While I can absolutely understand frustration with seeing a coworker getting a “more preferable” schedule, I don’t think it’s on the OP to be particularly sympathetic to her coworker, given how the coworker is approaching the whole thing. Had the coworker acted like an adult, I would certainly have sympathy, but she is being unbelievably unprofessional in her approach.

        4. Elder Dog*

          Maybe it’s a valid question, but it’s one Lavinia should be asking her own manager and HR, not one that should be brought up in a meeting.

        5. Kyrielle*

          I started to say something like this and then realized I was off-base, because the issue is Lavinia is whining and sniping _in general_. If she had gone to the OP, or to her boss, and said “I’d really like to flex my schedule too, how can that be done?” or even if she’d whined to the OP that she was super-jealous and would love this perk also, how’d you get it, that would be one thing.

          She’s been making sniping comments about it _in general_ to the open air/coworkers. That’s gossipy and passive-aggressive way beyond tone alone.

          1. Hotstreak*

            You’re right. It’s the coworkers entire manner of acting that’s off base, not just her verbal tone. The larger point I was trying to make is that the inquiry is valid given the facts she has.

            1. Kyrielle*

              And, had she handled it properly, I’m not sure we’d have had a letter at all. An inquiry – especially to her manager – would be appropriate. But she hasn’t made an inquiry, she’s started a sniping campaign based on her assumptions.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yes, exactly. She should have talked to her manager and/or HR. If they turned her down, she should have let it go. But the way she’s handling it, there’s no excuse for it.

        6. AVP*

          To me, these would be relevant points if the OP’s coworker were bringing them up in a productive fashion. By all means, she should schedule a meeting with HR and/or her manager and ask about modifying her own schedule, if that’s what she wants. The way that the OP describes the comments, though, seem more like fishing for drama than an actual schedule grievance.

        7. TM-7 Ultra-Distortion Scrotum Smasher*

          This. As easy as it is for us to pile-on Lavinia, from her POV she’s just not seeing any of the Big Picture with the FMLA etc. While I’m not sure that public whining about how someone else is getting special treatment is the way to go, I think it’s important to keep in mind that she’s not all bitchy because OP is dealing with a medical crisis; she’s bitchy because she thinks OP is getting special treatment.

          That in mind, I don’t see a snide remark at a meeting as being appropriate. If it was me, I think I’d ask my manager to gently explain some of the situation to Lavinia, and ask her to keep quiet about it. Unless she really is a totally rotten person, I think L would not ever be a problem again.

          1. Adam*

            I agree that the co-worker’s lack of information is fueling her response, and it’s possible she may have tried to get a more flexible schedule but been denied the privilege for whatever reason (although not all job titles have equal schedules. Half my department flexes Friday off or telecommutes, neither of which are an option for me). And maybe she’s just having a rotten day mixed with a legit concern that could be addressed.

            But her behavior to me suggests she’s probably not the most reasonable person to begin with even if she has a valid grievance somewhere, which would be with her managers and/or the organization. Airing her frustrations at a group meeting and focusing it on the OP is just about the least cordial and effective way she could have gone about addressing this.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yes, it doesn’t matter whether, based on the facts she has, it seems unfair to her. This is not how you handle it. Her behavior is inexcusable, and she gets no pass from me.

          2. Steve G*

            I concur, not that that changes how you deal with her, but someone has to be pretty unhappy in their job to be pointing out these things other people are doing, and being unhappy at work, where you spend the majority of your day is never an enviable position.

            Personally, I like a lot of parts of working…dressing up, going to Manhattan, doing dramatic spreadsheets, eating out at a nice lunch place, feeling important and involved…and because I am generally happy at work, I’m not even paying attention to the “special treatment” other people are getting around me (less hours or whatever)

            1. Chinook*

              Steve G., is there a specific style of dramatic spreadsheet say Shakespearian. vs.Tolstoyian use of numbers) or is it the drama that resets from using a great pivot table without causing the blue screen of death that makes you happy?

              1. steve g*

                Pivot tables made from pivot tables of other pivot tables, concatenated unique data IDs just for the heck of it, and if statements so long they look like the sunday NY times. When I say drama, I mean drama

                1. Chinook*

                  Wait – you can make a pivot table from a pivot table without the computer shutting down (which happens when there is a space in a field somewhere, I have learned)? That is dramatic. I so have to try this because it may solve a data crunching dilemma I have bee having.

          3. nk*

            Yep. I just remembered while reading this that when my ex-boyfriend’s mom was dying, he didn’t tell any of his coworkers for a while, for similar reasons to the LW – he didn’t want to deal with sympathy at the office. But he had made arrangements with his boss to occasionally work remotely or work from the company’s other office that was near his mom. When the frequency of that increased, his boss told him that while it was his business to share, it may be a good idea to give his coworkers a heads up on what was going on, since it was impacting them. I liked the way the boss handled it, to not force him to share anything he didn’t want to, but to gently point out that giving his team members some information about his changing schedule would help with their understanding of the situation.

        8. TootsNYC*

          I kind of agree with this.

          As a manager, I might want for my people to know that this sort of flexibility exists for them should they be able to make a case for it.
          Is the mere fact of FMLA something that’s so confidential that I the manager may not mention it?

          If I were a manager, I’d be sitting down with Lavinia and saying, “I want to make it clear: there are special circumstances that mean I and HR have allowed the OP to make these changes to her schedule. If you had a similar genuine need, we’d be open to allowing that flexibility to you as well. For reasons of discretion, I don’t want to go into more details, and I am directing you to not do any speculating here at work, or outside of work with your coworkers. And I don’t want to hear any more remarks about it as well.”

          Is that something I can do, as a manager?

          1. CEMgr*

            Yes, except I wouldn’t even make any direct reference to the OP…..I’d make it generic that schedules may at times be adjusted for various reasons.

        9. Anonsie*

          Theoretically yes, but there are several major problems with giving Lavinia slack on this. For starters, this is just about the worst possible way a person could handle a legitimate complaint. Snipping at the person in question and especially sarcastically bringing it up in a meeting (!!) is crappy behavior regardless of what reasonable concerns she could have had.

          And past that, you know, jumping to the worst conclusion and get on your judgy high horse just because maybe someone somewhere might be getting something you’re not some time maybe is childish and silly. If your coworker starts shifting their schedule and normally that’s not allowed, it costs you nothing to assume there’s a good reason before assuming they’re getting a lolly and getting bent out of shape because you want a lolly and you’re not getting one. The fact that she’s taking it a step farther and needling the LW for it publicly takes it over the top, she’s showing her ass on this and someone or another needs to shut it down. Nothing about this is acceptable behavior.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yes! The co-worker has no self-awareness beyond “someone else got a lolly, and now I realize that I really wanted one, too.”

        10. Anna*

          It’s not just wondering out loud. It’s specifically “wondering out loud” when the coworker can overhear you, or pointedly saying something about it while the coworker is sitting across from you. That’s not about employees being treated differently; that’s about “it’s only unfair because *I* don’t get to do it.” It’s childish. It is NOT a valid benefits question unless the coworker is asking HR and she is not. So no, it is absolutely not relevant.

        11. L*

          Then Lavina should talk to their mutual manager and say she noticed OP was able to modify her schedule and she’d like the opportunity to do so. Then the manager can address the scheduling issue. Being a passive-aggressive jerk isn’t the answer here.

          1. Mabel*

            I agree. And just because one person has a particular schedule (or sits in a particular office or is permitted to work from home or whatever) doesn’t mean that everyone else has the “right” to the same “benefit.”

        12. ScottySmalls*

          Say I did notice that, and I would like that kind of flex time. Then I would ask the person getting it, and then I would feel embarassed when she answered that it was because of her mother dying. Whining and asking out loud is rude.

        13. catsAreCool*

          I can understand why someone might say “Can I get the same benefits as LW?” but it seems like the sensible way to deal with this would be to ask HR or management or maybe ask LW, not let loose with a bunch of passive aggressive statements.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah, honestly this is how I would go too. There’s only so much passive aggressive whining you can take before you get snarky, and seriously – screw people like this. Go ahead and make them feel terrible.

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. Just because we’re adults trying to work civilly with each other doesn’t mean we can’t stand up for ourselves when the situation calls. There are plenty of professional ways to say “You’re out of line, so cut that crap out.”

    5. Malissa*

      I admit in my situation I did do this to a snarky coworker. I offered to let said co-irker go pack up and move my in-laws for me. I might have even offered her money…

        1. Malissa*

          “Oh, I’m sorry” and then she slunked away. She never snarked about anybody’s schedule after that.

    6. neverjaunty*

      I totally recommend this approach, because it is almost bulletproof. Either Lavinia shuts up and crawls back into the hole she came out of, or she’s so self-absorbed and clueless that she keeps whining, and then everybody (rightfully) despises her.

      Being me, I’d probably also add “I really didn’t want to discuss this openly, but it’s apparently very important to you to pry into my personal life.”

      OP, I am so sorry you are going through this.

      1. TM-7 Ultra-Distortion Scrotum Smasher*

        You’ve got a mighty unusual definition of “bulletproof”, there.

        Y’all are acting like it’s appropriate to punish Lavinia because she’s unaware of the underlying situation. This is uncalled for. It’s like everyone wants to punish her as if she knows OP is dealing with a medical crisis. But she doesn’t know, and in fact everyone who does know is actively trying to keep it a secret from her! So it’s fair for her to suffer public humiliation over it? I don’t think so.

        Again, I think the appropriate move is for OP to ask management to give L a minimal briefing on the situation, emphasizing that this is not to be repeated. I know OP doesn’t feel it’s anyone’s business, but there are times when one’s hand is forced.

        1. Kyrielle*

          She’s sniping publically instead of politely asking.

          That’s inappropriate behavior even if OP had no personal situation driving this and had negotiated her changed schedule as a perk.

          I don’t believe a public set-down of this degree is called for as “punishment”, but at the same time, she is publically sniping in a way that could impact OP’s reputation if others get on board with it. She chose the venue and the method…if it bites her, well, I think that’s life. Taking pleasure in that isn’t kind, but I think a lot of us can imagine all too well how this would hurt, and that makes it harder not to take a little pleasure in it, however un-admirable it is.

        2. neverjaunty*

          You have a mighty unusual definition of “unfair”.

          Lavinia is repeatedly sniping at OP and trying to shame OP in front of others. Period.

        3. Anonsie*

          This is still wildly inappropriate behavior regardless of how much Lavinia knows about what’s going on. Even if the LW was doing something she shouldn’t, passive-aggressively trying to bring in the public shaming during a meeting is way out of line and any reasonable person should already know better.

        4. Anna*

          One’s hand is never forced to behave childishly and take out frustrations passive-aggressively on a coworker. If Lavinia has questions, Lavinia should ask the OP directly or talk to management about whether or not this is an option that might be available to everyone. Lavinia isn’t really doing anything to win friends and influence people right now. She’s not suffering public humiliation. In fact, the only thing having to do with public humiliation is that Lavinia is trying very hard to publicly embarrass the OP or make her feel guilty for using her LEGAL RIGHT to care for an ill parent and also exercising her LEGAL RIGHT to not tell anyone what’s going on.

        5. Marcela*

          Really? “Poor Lavinia”? She doesn’t have any right to know the situation OP’s facing. She is not OP’s manager or HR. If her work is suffering because OP is not 100% there, you could say she is somehow involved, but the adult thing to do is to talk to her manager to find the better way to diminish the problems. Not going around like a five years old, sulking because her glass does not have the exact same amount of juice her siblings get.

          Honestly, she deserves to be humilliated if she behaves like a toddler when she is not. It’s not cute, it’s nosy and even more, it adds an extra burden to OP. It’s incredibly inconsiderate.

        6. Steve G*

          +1, because just like OP’s coworkers don’t know what she is going through, we also don’t know what Lavinia is going through. I guess she is just unhappy with her job and doesn’t want to be there, but she might also be overwhelmed with outside of work stuff that many people are, and wish she could get time off as well

          1. Standing in the spotlight*

            Either way, she should address that issue professionally with her manager and HR. Rather than snipe at the OP, make passive aggressive comments in front of everyone, and acting like a pouty four year old.

        7. Delyssia*

          If you would define “minimal briefing on the situation” as something along the lines of “she has approval for all schedule changes from me and from HR,” then I would agree with you. If you think Lavinia deserves or is owed any more of an explanation than that, I strongly disagree.

        8. Dana*

          If Lavinia has a problem with her own schedule, she needs to talk to her manager. That she perceives OP as getting preferential treatment is not OP’s problem.

          If Lavinia has a problem that OP’s schedule is impacting her own work, she needs to talk to a manager. Because managing people and their schedules is what managers do.

          Publicly shaming OP and whining about it would be no different than finding out OP got a raise and vilifying her in front of everyone and saying OP didn’t deserve it instead of asking her own manager for a raise.

        9. JB (not in Houston)*

          No, we’re acting like it’s appropriate to shut her down because of her behavior. We don’t care what she doesn’t know, we care about how she’s handling it.

        10. pony tailed wonder*

          I think you are right. Just because Lavinia is acting unprofessionally doesn’t mean that you would have to lower yourself to act unprofessionally as well.

        11. JenGray*

          You do NOT have to disclose a medical condition to your coworkers or the reason why you are taking FMLA leave. Your employer also can NOT disclose your medical condition to anyone except for those that need to know in this case HR and your manager. Lavinia (or any other coworkers) do not have the right to know why a coworker is taking FMLA or other leave and she also shouldn’t be griping about it in public. Lavinia is attacking a coworker for no reason other than her perceived unfairness of the situation and so therefore she deserves what consequences may arise from that. And I think you are wrong that it will be public humiliation- she created the situation and so has to deal with what may happen. And asking her not to repeat being told about the OP isn’t appropriate in this situation- Lavinia just needs to grow up and understand that at times there are situations that you can’t control and acting childish is inappropiate.

    7. K.*

      Yeah, I think I’d counter her attempt to shame me in front of the group with exactly what you describe. She’s got it coming. I totally understand why the OP doesn’t want to put all her business in the street – in general I’m a private person, especially at work. But in this situation I’d be so angry – the OP’s coworker’s behavior is so beyond, insensitive, and unprofessional that in my opinion, it warrants her getting completely called out, shut down, and made to feel foolish.

    8. Dang*

      Yep. same here. I’d want her to feel like a real (glassbowl) because that’s what she’s acting like.

    9. Jerry*

      This comment is too late and sorry for your loss but I hope that this might help someone else.
      Your colleagues are not owed any explanation. However, as this person is being particularly nasty in my opinion I would suggest a bomb dropping exercise that will shut her mouth up forever. Call a group of colleagues together including the nasty person in particular (remember that you need the group) and say that there have been rumours or complaints about unfair flexibility aimed at you and to put this to rest say that this is because your parent is terminally ill. You then continue to say that you do not want to hear any more about this issue. You then stop the meeting and carry on with your work and say that you do not want to discuss it any further. (Watch how red her face will go.) Remember that it is important to reiterate that you don’t want to discuss it any further if ANYONE asks you.

  3. The Cosmic Avenger*

    “Lavinia, I’ve arranged my schedule with Jane and HR. If you have concerns about your own schedule, I encourage you to talk to them.”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. This kind of passive-aggressive complainer isn’t usually looking for you to have a good reason, which as Alison said most people would be able to guess/assume, they’re looking for reasons to complain. Whatever reason you give them is usually not good enough. I would stick to this particular tactic above.

    However, if the OP has a trusted coworker(s) who they feel close to, they could let THEM know what is going on, and then the complainer may look even worse if those people say something like “[OP] has a very good reason to need the time off, and while it’s a personal matter told to me in confidence, I can tell you that it’s sure as hell not a vacation!” (Not that you could or should try to orchestrate something like that, but it’s a good reason to tell those whom you do trust the general outline of what’s going on at home.)

    1. J.B.*

      I agree. OP I am very sorry for your situation and wish you peace. I also think you need to proactively do something to get Lavinia to shut the eff up before you explode. And I hope you have some support for you.

  4. C*

    Oh, I am so sorry, OP. She is making a difficult situation so much harder.

    In my workplace, confidentiality about FMLA is a huge deal. I am taking intermittent FMLA to undergo a regular medical treatment, and I myself didn’t even realize how much confidentiality there was supposed to be. Our payroll person called me to ask why I put FMLA on my time sheet, as she was confused because I had earlier taken several weeks off on FMLA for surgery, but she didn’t know why I had one day marked like that several months later. I gave her a brief explanation, which I was fine with as I am not keeping my treatment a secret (though I’m not going out of my way to tell people who are not on my team), and then emailed HR to tell them she had asked about it and that perhaps they needed to go over my arrangement with her, just so she understood how to apply FMLA in this case.

    Well, the head of HR called me about 2 seconds later, freaking out. He apologized profusely and said she was NOT allowed to ask me why I was taking FMLA and that I didn’t need to tell her anything. I actually felt terrible for inadvertently getting her in trouble, as I really don’t care at all. I explained I didn’t care, but he was very firm that she was not allowed to ask me.

    Basically, you can say simply, I’m using FMLA, and refuse to answer further questions. If your HR is like mine, if you mention her continued questioning to them, she will actually get in big trouble. But I do agree with Allison that maybe a very brief explanation would be good to shut her up and let your other co-workers know that you have a different arrangement for a reason.

    I’m sorry about your parent and I send warm thoughts your way.

    1. CompGirl*

      I am in HR, and this is so true! It’s also truly awkward being in HR, taking FMLA leave, and then HR colleagues are wondering what is going on, not because they are nosy, but because they’re coworkers/work friends and truly care … but also know they are NOT supposed to ask. :) Good on the head of HR for personally calling to speak to you about it, you didn’t mind but there are many people who would!

      I hope your medical treatments are going well, whatever it is that is going on! (Which I do not need to know about!) ;)

  5. Anna*

    I’m so sorry, OP. You’re dealing with enough without having to put up with something that doesn’t seem to actually affect your awful coworker. I can’t express enough how horribly childish your coworker is being.

  6. Yep*

    Yeah Lavinia seriously sucks. I like Alison’s suggestions of basically directing her back to HR. She’s clearly not a reasonable person who you can talk to about this. Seriously it’s not your job and you shouldn’t have to deal with this – but HR won’t know this is an issue unless you either A) Bring it to their attention yourself or B) Again, direct Lavinia to them. You don’t owe her an explanation. It’s HR/management”s problem, not your problem.

    My almost-but-not-really-comparable situation: I have cystic fibrosis and cough a lot and I’m constantly paranoid about coworkers worrying that I’m coming in when I shouldn’t be, spreading my germs and all. I don’t feel like I should be obligated to explain to anyone that I have a genetic, non-contagious disease, but people can’t help but comment on it.

    Like Alison said, sometimes it is easier if you give a little information even though you shouldn’t have to. I tell people I have CF on a case by case basis, or if I really don’t want to give details I say I have “a chronic lung problem that’s under control.” Maybe have some vague phrases like that for your situation.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Can you just say “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious”? I would think that should be enough for non-jerk coworkers.

    2. Fact & Fiction*

      I might consider using my actual “I have year round and seasonal allergies” explanation in that case. I cough like crazy off and on and get so self-conscious but folks immediately understand the “it’s not contagious it’s allergies” explanation. This would only be if I didn’t want to divulge the CF and had people giving me the side eye.

  7. Observer*

    I tend to be fairly open about this stuff, so I would probably just let people know what’s going on.

    The truth is that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. On the other hand, it’s the smart and right thing to do. The fact is that you absence is almost certainly affecting others, and it’s normal for people to wonder about why it’s being allowed. I don’t mean full details if you don’t want to, but the basics. Even just “I’ve worked out my FMLA leave with HR to minimize disruption.” It makes it clear that really is what normal people consider good reason to take this much time off.

    I really don’t understand why you would think that mentioning the situation would be considered a bid for sympathy. If you were coming in and going on about how exhausted you are with all the juggling, and how rough all of this is etc. that might come off that way (although I’m betting it would all be 100% true an justified.) But a “this is why I’m out” kind of statement is a whole different thing.

    You co-worker is a real piece of work, though. I think Allison’s scripts are perfect.

    1. Colette*

      I think, too, that avoiding sympathy may not be in the OP’s best interests. I’m sure she doesn’t want to deal with public, overdone sympathy – no one does – but she can minimize that by not sharing a lot of details and saying “I’d rather not talk about it” if people ask questions. However, there’s also the sympathy that comes with people recognizing that you’ve got a lot on your plate and cutting you a break when you make mistakes, which would be very helpful. I know I’m a lot more willing to help someone out when I know they’re dealing with a sick relative versus leaving early to hit the golf course.

      1. cv*

        People’s reactions to difficult situations vary a lot, and for some people having one area of their life that’s continuing on normally can be steadying when everything else is falling apart. Coworkers who know even the broad outlines of the situation are likely to ask well-intentioned sympathetic questions about how OP is doing or tiptoe around OP in various other ways – our culture has a really hard time with death and people may just act uncomfortable. That may not be where the OP is coming from at all, but I can totally understand the desire to keep it walled off entirely.

        Personally I like Alison’s first phrasing because it’s vague enough that people won’t really modify their behavior around OP. Decent people will recognize the vagueness as a purposeful statement that the details are private, but it gives enough context to keep coworkers from gossiping or resenting OP’s absences.

        1. Colette*

          I didn’t mean to imply that the OP has to share anything if she doesn’t want to or that she has to share any details – “family health issues” or “FMLA” are fine – but in the absence of any information, people will make assumptions. The assumptions might be “illness”, but they might also be “second job”, “leaving early to pick up the kids”, or “lots of job interviews”.

        2. Gandalf the Nude*

          This X a billion.

          When my father was dying, it was hard enough to keep my mind off it without every coworker dropping in to ask how I was doing that day. I always wanted to answer, “I was holding up until you flipping asked me!” It would have been difficult, but if I had it to do over, I probably would have tried to keep it between me and management just to avoid all the well-intentioned but poorly-executed sympathy. Certainly not every office will be like that, but it could be one explanation for why OP wants to keep her reasons to herself.

          1. MM*

            I’ve been through this – two years ago when my young grandson was battling cancer and again last Fall when my mom went into hospice care a few weeks before she passed away. In both cases I used intermittent FMLA but I let the people I was closest to at work know the reason. On those days I couldn’t talk about the situation without crying, I told people I couldn’t talk about it right then. On other days I was happy to have the comfort of caring and sympathetic co-workers.

      2. Future Analyst*

        But giving anything more than “I’ve coordinated with HR to use FMLA” puts it on the OP to then field sympathetic conversations. I don’t know about you, but when I’m hardly keeping it together, anyone expressing nice thoughts to me makes me want to cry. I certainly wouldn’t want to do that on top of managing a full work schedule and taking care of an ill parent.

        1. Colette*

          I think that’s enough, though. She doesn’t need to share details, and she can be clear she doesn’t want to discuss it, but not sharing the bare-bones information that she’s using FMLA means that her coworkers will come to their own conclusions. She doesn’t have to share anything, of course, but there’s value in being able to say “I’m sorry, I had a rough night” or “I know I said I’d make sure the teapots dry properly, but I have to go” and having people sympathize instead of assuming she’s taking further advantage.

        2. Observer*

          I get that. But, as Colette says, there is value in being able to do what you need to with some sympathy from co-workers rather than judgement.

          And, directly to your point, I think that most of us who are advocating sharing some info are not saying that she needs to share detail – and not necessarily even broad specifics. But the OP apparently has not even shared that it’s FMLA leave.

          1. Colette*

            Yes, I’m suggesting she share that it’s FMLA leave, not why it’s FMLA leave. It’s the difference between people wanting to help and resenting having to help. It’s also the difference between “sorry, no idea when Jane will be in, she comes and goes as she pleases” and “Jane isn’t in, but I know she’s really prompt at responding to email”.

    2. anon attorney*

      I can see why OP doesn’t want to tell people about the situation. When my partner was diagnosed with cancer, for the first few months I couldn’t talk about the situation without breaking down – and I have coworkers who are really kind and would never ever do what Lavinia is doing. I coped by enlisting my boss to give other team members the basic details but making clear that I didn’t want to discuss anything directly. Fortunately, although I had a lot of time off and in retrospect this must have affected colleagues, nobody has ever made an issue of it. I tend to think that while people don’t need details, and OP shouldn’t feel pressured into disclosure, providing a very basic explanation might give people a chance to behave at their best and support you (even if that means leaving you to get on with it, if you prefer ) while at the same time making it very hard for the Lavinias of the world to continue being insensitive. Even if you don’t have the energy to smack her down, I suspect someone else might do so, the situation were understood.

      I am sorry you’re in this situation, and hope you have support outside work for this difficult and draining journey. Thoughts with you and your family.

  8. Graciosa*

    I do see that providing some minimal information will probably help the OP, but I think in this situation I would be strongly inclined not to say any more than the absolute minimum – along the lines of “I’ve arranged this with my boss and HR – if you have a problem, talk to them” but possibly more politely.

    I’d let Lavinia go right ahead and make that complaint and hear that this is none of her business.

    I’d consider having a word with my boss if the comments persisted, along the lines of “Boss, you know that this is a very difficult time for me, but I am trying to honor my obligations to the company as best I can during this period when I’m using my FMLA leave. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to handle the situation with Lavinia – she keeps making comments like [example] and I’m not sure how to respond. The reasons for my leave are a private matter, and I do not want to be forced to share them in order to avoid hearing these kind of remarks. It’s very upsetting to have to deal with these constant critical comments in the work place – especially now, when I’m obviously having to cope with a very stressful situation in my personal life. Do you have any idea what I can do to get these remarks to stop without having to share my private trauma in the work place?”

    As a manager, my reaction would be to have Very Strong Words with Lavinia about minding her own business and not her co-workers’, bringing concerns to management before making them public, and not adding negativity to the work place. I am not tolerant of this kind of sniping under the best of circumstances, but this is outrageous. If you think about it, Lavinia is challenging Jan’s management without taking the trouble to speak to Jan about her concerns.

    At some point – unfortunately – this will be over and the OP will return to a normal work schedule. She may feel more like sharing what happened with her colleagues around or after the funeral.

    Lavinia will then bear the full brunt of her behavior without the OP having to do anything – people do remember these things.

    Again, personally, I would be strongly tempted at that time to extend my thanks to everyone who helped during this difficult time – by being understanding of my situation without demanding explanations, by accommodating my schedule, or whatever – and look pointedly back at Lavinia as I did so.

    But I admit that may be overly focused on letting Lavinia get what she deserves – making the OP as comfortable as possible herself is definitely more important.

    OP, I am very sorry you’re going through any of this. You have my sympathy.

  9. Hotstreak*

    I think OP could and should have cut this off before it even started. The comments you are getting are still rude and obnoxious, but not entirely unexpected. When you have a schedule change, your team members will notice you are working odd hours and taking lots of time off. If you choose to leave an information gap, they will fill it with whatever they think may be happening. You could have your manager make a brief comment at a staff meeting, like:

    “Jane will be working a different schedule for the foreseeable future, which has been cleared with me and HR. If you have any questions or this will cause any work issues, please speak with me regarding those”

    1. neverjaunty*

      How could OP have cut this off before it even started? It’s not OP’s job to run around making her co-workers act like adults. If they had concerns about OP’s schedule, the way to handle that is to discuss with HR or their own managers, not to make snotty remarks to OP.

      1. Hotstreak*

        That’s the right way for the coworker to handle it, but the OP can still be aware that people may react poorly and stop the issue before it starts.

        1. Zillah*

          Given the OP’s situation, I think that what you’re proposing is incredibly unreasonable. The OP has far more significant things to focus on than preemptively giving their coworkers incredibly personal information. If that truly would have magically solved everything, why didn’t the OP’s manager suggest it?

          1. Hotstreak*

            OP doesn’t have to give them personal information though, she just needs to say she’s negotiated time off with her manager and HR and ask her co-worker to direct inquiries to them.

            We have zero information about OP’s manager, so I can’t speak to why they would or wouldn’t suggest anything. But certainly taking a few minutes to inform people her schedule is changing would have been less troublesome than being whined to (in a meeting!!) & writing in to a blog about the whole situation.

            1. Zillah*

              I think it’s incredibly harsh to criticize someone in the OP’s position for not foreseeing what really are inappropriate comments and for not knowing quite what to do now that they’ve started. I mean, seriously?

              1. catsAreCool*

                I agree that “it’s incredibly harsh to criticize someone in the OP’s position for not foreseeing what really are inappropriate comments and for not knowing quite what to do now that they’ve started.”

      2. Nisse*

        You’re absolutely right, but at the same time we’re only seeing one side of this. If the question would have been something along the lines “I’m working in a company having very strict rules with regards to office hours. Lately one of my colleagues has started not being around and thus putting me in a bad spot. I’ve tried talking about it in meetings but I’ve been ignored. How should I proceed?”

        I’m not in any way defending how it’s described being handled but it’s very easy to cast judgement on how other people solve problems, especially like in this case when we’re not even getting first hand information.

    2. cv*

      This strikes me as incredibly dependent on the workplace and the culture. When I worked in an organization of 6 people, it would have been weird to have someone suddenly working different hours with no mention of it, since we all interacted all day long on work issues. At a different workplace that was larger and more bureaucratic and where I worked much more independently, the proactive announcement would have been pretty odd.

  10. Kara*

    OP you say that you “have more than enough problems and no time for drama” but my opinion is that by being so highly secretive, you are actually creating drama. It’s human nature to wonder, especially when someone appears to be receiving special treatment and is being tight lipped about it. The more you double down on not saying anything about anything to anyone, the more you feed the rumor mill.

    I truly don’t understand what’s wrong with simply telling your co-workers, as someone else said above “My mother is ill/dying and I’m taking FMLA to care for her.” and then responding to any questions or expressions of sympathy with “Thank you. I really don’t want to talk about it at work.”

    1. Kyrielle*

      If OP doesn’t want to create drama and that is (as the letter implies) the main reason not to talk, I agree with you.

      But when my mother was dying of cancer, I did not want to, and could not, talk about it at work. If I could tune it out, I could work, and for those hours I was just me, doing my job, not thinking about my mother dying. If I had to talk about it, if people extended sympathy or tried to be nice or otherwise *acted like my mother was dying*, the whole house of cards fell apart, and I felt worse.

      I didn’t mind them knowing, but I needed it to not exist. I got around that by telling my manager – which I needed to anyway – and asking them to *please* tell the team what was going on but also tell them that I preferred not to discuss it at work. And because I worked with a small group of awesome people, that worked…but I don’t know if I’d have felt safe handling it that way if I worked with people I knew/trusted less.

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. When you’re stuck in a situation like this that can be an emotional roller-coaster sometimes you’d rather people not know. That way you have fewer people asking you about it and thus the less time you have to spend thinking about it yourself.

        I will never fault someone for being naturally curious. It’s human nature to wonder and I don’t like the idea of squelching that. But just because someone is curious it doesn’t mean they’re entitled to an answer, so if the manager state’s that “Jane” will be out of the office dealing with family related issues after that any speculation or drama that arises is on the co-workers.

        1. cv*

          This. I worked in a very small office where one of my coworkers took some leave unexpectedly that I had the vague impression was medical – I don’t know if it was FMLA or short term disability or what. And it was really noticeable that she was gone because we were all scrambling to cover for her during the lead-up to a big event. The rest of the staff knew nothing at all about the reason, and of course I was curious. But I never asked her about it, because I try to be respectful of other people’s privacy and because she clearly didn’t want her coworkers to know what was going on.

    2. MaryMary*

      I am a very private person, especially at work. When my father had a heart attack, I told my direct supervisor and that’s it. It’s not that everyone wouldn’t have been supportive, they would have. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to field questions or sympathy, because even if you say “Thank you, I don’t want to talk about it” you have to say it multiple times to multiple people. One of my favorite work friends was kind of upset that I didn’t tell her until well afterwards, but I did. not. want. to talk about it.

      1. Graciosa*

        I had exactly the same reaction to my father’s heart attack. My boss at the time knew that I was working from his hospital room (in intervals depending upon what was going on) but I did not share that with anyone else.

        Being forced to discuss this at work – even just fielding well-meant questions – was more than I wanted to deal with at the time.

        In my mind, the person who is having the [trauma / problem / difficulty] gets to decide whether and how to share any information about it.

    3. MsM*

      Nope, the drama here is totally on Lavinia. There’s nothing stopping her from bringing her concerns to HR directly, or even quietly telling LW she’s been hoping for a similar arrangement and is curious how LW managed it (to which the LW could simply respond that her situation is too different to be applicable, and suggest that Lavinia work it out with her supervisor/HR directly). Heck, I’d even be sympathetic if she’d just asked point-blank what’s going on. But she’s chosen to whine publicly. That is in no way, shape, or form the LW’s fault.

    4. Anonsie*

      Oh for god’s sake, really? It’s your own fault if gossipy people can’t handle not knowing all your business and start sniping you for it? People can wonder all they want without hissing behind their hands, or in front of their hands as this person is doing. The LW is acting like a normal person, they’re not somehow more responsible for the rumor mill than the people turning its cranks.

      There is a reasonable way to ask why something is different and then there’s this.

    5. Marcela*

      Really? It is not that hard to understand that we have different takes on things, and that’s specially true when talking about the way people react and deal with difficult situations, from very privately to completely publicly.

      At work, there was a time where I had just a superficial relationship with my coworkers. I didn’t have to work directly with them, we just shared an office. So when I was undergoing a treatment including surgery, to finally being diagnosed with infertility, I did not say anything to them when my schedule changed. In the event one of them had decided my new schedule was unfair, what makes you think there will be something “good” about telling them why I needed time off? In my experience, people with this kind of petty behavior are not really concerned by the actual reasons behind. It doesn’t matter to them why you are getting special treatment. It only matters that they are not. Why should I have to add that burden to my already heavy load? If only I could say that people’s reactions to bad news are always compassionate, maybe I’d agree with you. But that’s not true, and the truth is that if they don’t trust our management, then the problem is not only mine and I bet there are other manifestations of this mistrust (which can be reasonable, as we know reading this blog).

  11. Ad Astra*

    I’m always so satisfied with myself when my own answer matches Allison’s. Even before I got to the end of the letter, I was thinking no, the OP doesn’t owe anyone an explanation, but it might benefit her to share a little more information with her coworkers.

    OP, I’m really sorry you’re going through this and I can’t imagine how stressful it must be. Most coworkers, even crappy ones, won’t see you as “seeking sympathy” if you explain what’s going on and why your schedule is changing. Plus, seeking sympathy — especially in the form of flexibility and patience from your colleagues — would be a completely reasonable thing to do in your situation.

    I understand some people prefer not to talk about the difficult things happening in their lives, especially with coworkers, but even mentioning just the very basic facts of the situation could make your working life easier.

  12. 2horseygirls*

    I’m just particularly uncooperative this week, so my response to her insinuation that she was (huff huff) “going to speak to HR about THIS!” would be: “Knock your socks off, babe – have a good time.”

    As a inveterate night owl who was legitimately required to be seated at my desk at 8 a.m. (because I was the first one people saw when they walked in), I can tell you it was incredibly irritating to see colleagues wander in at 8:30, 8:45 or even after 9 a.m. However, it didn’t interfere with my duties or ability to complete my work, so I grumbled under my breath and soldiered on. They all had far more seniority than I, and one or two did have things going on outside work that required them to adjust their schedule (which they mentioned to me themselves, in the course of friendly lunch chat).

    I think people like Lavinia think they are da bomb, and get peevy when they think someone is getting a perk or privilege that they should have been allowed to have first…

    1. TCO*

      I think you’re right about OP’s flexible schedule looking like a perk. Lavinia’s probably mad that OP got something she thinks she herself “deserves.” Her immaturity in dealing with this is probably an indicator that she wouldn’t deserve the perk even if it actually were one. OP, I wish you all of the best.

  13. misspiggy*

    It is hard to share difficult circumstances with work colleagues. When I’ve done it, however, I’ve always been amazed by how lovely and supportive people have been. I’ve never disclosed to toxic people unless absolutely necessary, but even then their treatment of me has been far less bad than I expected.

  14. Dasha*

    OP- I’m so sorry :( I completely understand your desire for privacy and your coworker is such a butthead! Will you let us know what you decide to do and how it goes?

  15. SwissTeapot*

    I would re-frame letting your colleagues privately know the bare basics of what’s going on as giving a heads up to them as opposed to getting sympathy. I really appreciated the heads up from my teammate when his mother was hospitalized and consequently was away during office hours/left early and then tried to make up for it by working later at night.

    We worked together and are the only two in the organization who knew about a project in detail, although I am now working on a different project while he has continued on that project. This helped adjust my expectations of how fast I could expect a response from him (he is usually very responsive), but I could also address or intercept requests from others that were time-sensitive without feeling like I was overstepping bounds while leaving the rest to him.

    It’s more about helping the team respond to external requests appropriately while distributing workload in a manner that works for everybody, rather than sympathy. If he hadn’t informed me of his near-term schedule disruption, I would’ve assumed that he would address requests per usual and the more time-sensitive ones would have been delayed.

  16. Rebecca*

    Here’s something Lavinia and coworkers like her need to understand. Lavinia might be in those same shoes at some point, and may really need some compassion and work concessions from her employer, just like the OP is getting now. My employer does not allow us to work from home, but when my Dad had hip replacement surgery, I was allowed to work from my parent’s house during whatever hours I needed to make up my 40 hour week to be there since my Mom isn’t physically able to help Dad stand up, etc. I’m an only child. There was no one else to help. All my coworkers knew this. No one gave me any flak, at least to my face.

    So what may look like a huge perk might be something the company is doing to both help the employee, and keep an employee at the same time. I hope the OP can make this clear without divulging too much info, or better yet, the OP’s manager can clue in Lavinia.

  17. Another HRPro*

    OP, I am very sorry about your parent. I know how difficult, exhausting and emotional this time can be. I do not blame you for not wanting to share information at work. When I had a similar situation I just wanted to close my mind off of it at work. Work was the only place I didn’t have to deal with the emotions every single second. That said, I do think letting people know what you are comfortable sharing will help you. AAM’s wording is perfect and most reasonable people will pick up that you don’t want to get into the details and will let you be.

    I started out with that level of sharing but as things quickly got worse and I was walking out of meetings with big bosses to take calls and occasionally breaking down in tears I finally came to a point where it was best for me to share what was going on. Almost everyone was wonderful and supportive. A few people would pry too much. I’m a very private person and I didn’t want to think about what was going on when I didn’t have to but their constant “how is your mom doing?” would just depress me so much. I know their intensions were good, but it was hard.

    I say all of this to let you know that I understand the possible complications from sharing, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have been more direct to start out and just let people know that I didn’t want to talk about it.

    Finally, please take care of yourself as much as possible as you go through this. I know it is very hard to find time and the resolve to occasionally put yourself first but you must. You won’t be any good to anyone if you don’t get some rest, quiet time and healthy food in you.

  18. Karyn*

    I often wonder if my coworkers notice/get upset when I’m out intermittently (I have debilitating migraines and use intermittent FMLA when I need to take the knock-you-out meds to sleep it off). Not many people know about them, and I sometimes get worried that they think I’m abusing the system/going over my PTO without approval. Then I remember that I owe no one an explanation for anything and that I cannot control how other people react, and I feel a bit better. My manager knows the situation and that’s the only person whose opinion can affect me in any real way.

  19. Sabrina*

    I have a Lavinia. Luckily I don’t work with her and don’t have direct contact with her ever, which makes me wonder why she cares. I let her stew. It’s none of her business. She can take it up with her manager if she has a problem.

  20. Chickaletta*

    You never know until you walk in someone else’s shoes. Stories like this remind me of why I always try to give other people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it’s naive and I occasionally get blindsided by a real jerk, but usually people have honest stories about tribulations we don’t know about. Empathy and kindness win. Live and let live.

  21. Jeanne*

    I think you should start with your decent coworkers. Tell them a simple statement about how you’re taking FMLA for a family member’s health problem. I would say which family member, your choice. Tell them that you really don’t like to discuss it but you wanted them to know in case they need to work with you on a project. I think in the end that will help. It is very likely one of them will then tell Lavinia to shut up.

    However, I have worked with people like Lavinia and it’s possible that will not stop her. If she whines near you but not at you, try to ignore it. If she ever does it in a group meeting again, I would be tempted to say something. Miss Manners has phrases such as “What an interesting assumption” and “How kind of you to take an interest”. I might be more direct and ask if she had discussed her wish for schedule changes with Manager.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. Unfortunately, you can’t win with jerks like Lavinia so don’t play. On the other hand, it sounds like you’re running yourself ragged. Try to find some respite care. Friend, family member, or social services. You need a little down time.

  22. Seal*

    What is it about alternative work schedules that makes coworkers go so completely off the rails? I have encountered this at every job I’ve had, regardless of the circumstances of said work schedules. My theory is that people just need something to complain about; if it wasn’t work schedules it would be something else. So long as the work is getting done and the boss has signed off on it, what possible difference does it make when someone comes and goes every day?

    OP, you have my symphathies for both your personal and work situations. Your coworker is an insensitive idiot.

  23. INFJ*

    OP, sorry about your sick parent, and that your coworker is making the situation harder.

    This story gave me bad flashbacks to when I had a work related injury. I missed some time from work and then came back with certain restricitons. Like OP, I also experienced passive agressive comments from a loud and miserable coworker who didn’t like that I was taking so many breaks (even though she knew I was recovering from injury, and I had gotten the OK for breaks as needed from my supervisor and the company nurse). Unfortunately, my supervisor caved in to my loud coworker’s complaining and told me I could take “breaks” (stop working), but wasn’t allowed to leave my work area (aside from unpaid lunch and obviously bathroom breaks). This way, it wouldn’t LOOK like I was taking so many breaks, because I would still be at my station. He actually admitted that he was mandating this based on other employees’ questions and complaining. I ended up spending a lot of time at work just standing at my station doing nothing.

    I hope your manager is more supportive/less influenced by coworkers complaining. My own experience with FMLA taught me not to question (even internally) other employees who appear to be having attendance issues/special privelages. It has made me a lot more understanding that special cases may exist that are none of my business. I wish more people could adopt that attitude.

    1. Observer*

      I’m not sure whose behavior is more appalling.

      I always wonder what the turnover at companies like this looks like. I mean why would any person with options want to stay in such a situation?

    2. The Strand*

      I hope you’re not still at that position. I’m not sure that those breaks meet the standard for recovery.

      I had a similar situation when I was still a kid, and looking back I can’t believe that a grown man (my then supervisor) would be so insecure as to give in to grumbling over a legitimate medical issue.

  24. Kiki*

    Here’s what I did. I share OP’s discomfort in providing that sort of information to co-workers. A few years back, I was faced with three major surgeries in one year, with a total of four months off in the year. I am almost always at my desk. People started talking. I chose one person who is very discreet but also very protective-motherly and told her what was going on, in all the gory detail she wanted. She proceeded to shut everyone down on my behalf and is still in my corner. Years later, and still no one knows what happened. If you have someone like this where you work, take it.

  25. Mimi*

    “Lavinia, I’ve arranged my schedule with Jane and HR. If you have concerns about your own schedule, I encourage you to talk to them.” <– This. She deserves no more than this

    Although I'd be sorely tempted to tell Lavinia that she can choose between shutting her mouth and kissing my backside. Or do both!

  26. Liz*

    I witnessed something similar happen. My coworker was dealing with a chronic medical issue and frequently had to take time off for treatment. Everyone in our department resented her constant “calling in sick”, thinking she was a faker who was abusing our office’s lenient tracking of sick days. People would grumble about her behind her back. She had confided in me, so I knew the truth, and I gained an incredible amount of respect when I realized how much work she WAS doing while being so sick, but since she didn’t want anyone to know she was sick I couldn’t say anything. It was horrible to hear people talking about her without being able to set the record straight.

    She thought putting on a brave face and keeping the details of her illness confidential was the right thing to do. I respect her wish to deal with a difficult thing in her own way, but I really think if she had just told everyone what was going on it would have done wonders for her reputation and that everyone would have been really understanding.

    1. Marcela*

      You see, I have conflicts with that. For all my life, I’ve had horrible periods, several days of incapacitating pain. So naturally I’ve had to ask for days off even when I was in school. Also naturally, that created in many of my classmates and coworkers later, the idea that I was just a whining princess who never wanted to work. But those were the persons who didn’t work with me. All the people that worked with me could see that I worked as hard as. And that I recovered every single second I could not work. They are my references now and gave me glowing reviews.

      The thing is, I remember explaining myself once to a difficult classmate. She wanted to schedule an exam in a day I knew I wasn’t going to be able to move. She didn’t accept my vague explanations in front of our class and suggested I was simply lazy. So I tried to explain to her in private that there was a reason. She didn’t believe it. She said, and it won’t be the first time, that I was exaggerating because I was lazy and just didn’t want to go to the university that day. Back to the front of the class, she told them I didn’t have any good reason to refuse that date for the exam.

      Perhaps if my sickness were less extra super private, I would have gotten a more compassionate response. I wonder. Now I think that people with the empathy of a rock will never understand, no matter what your reasons are. Because it’s not really about us, the sick ones, but about them and what they are not getting.

      1. The Strand*

        True, the ones who have no empathy will never understand. But in many offices and work situations, those who do have empathy and strength of character will fight to keep the jerkfaces in line. That’s why I think it’s worth saying so.

        In college, someone made a very nasty comment about one of my friends with a medically-caused speech impediment. I called him out on it. I would have called out Lavinia on behalf of my coworker. I learned from experience, that many of the loudest people in the world are actually cowards – who will sink down in their seat if you confront them.

      2. Observer*

        Unfortunately, there are always going to be the “Lavinias” of the world, and some of them have more influence than others. But, most often if others have some basic information, they will not be influenced – and may even come to your defense. With people like that, often a mild “Well, if you need FMLA leave talk to HR.” will work wonders. But, that can’t happen if no one KNOWS that it’s fmla.

        1. Anonsie*

          If you ask a room full of people with chronic illnesses what proportion of the population are Lavinias, most of us would guess a majority. You’d be shocked at the deficit of compassion the average person has for this.

    2. Anonsie*

      You’d think, right? If I seem way more agitated about this than I normally am it’s because, as someone with a chronic illness, this is what always happens. And it doesn’t even matter if you detail with them every single thing that’s wrong with you and every drug and every symptom, those people are judgy and hostile because that’s just their MO and knowing why doesn’t make them a single stitch more sympathetic or less snarky. You can catalog every single day to people and half of them will still just think you’re a liar or a hypochondriac or you don’t take care of yourself so your illness is your own fault or whatever. It doesn’t help to talk, you have to trust me on this one.

      Everyone I know who deals with illness starts off talking and eventually we all clam up like your coworker. It actually feeds into the hostility much less to let people speculate wildly than actually give them material.

  27. MsM*

    Yeah, my gut reaction would just be to say “Be my guest” to any threats to take it up with HR, unless you have reason to suspect they won’t respect your confidentiality. But something like “My current arrangement is by necessity, not choice. Anyone who needs to know the details is already aware of them, and that’s really all I want to say on the subject,” could also work if you don’t want to bring up FMLA. You might still get some “Are you okay?” questions, but you can deflect those with “Like I said, I’d rather not get into details, but I appreciate the concern.”

  28. The Strand*

    OP, first, my condolences on a difficult and painful situation. I am so sorry you have to put up with this unreasonable bullshit while trying to make your parent’s last days comfortable and full of love – and trying to take care of yourself at the same time.

    I am with Alison and others who would let them have a terse, direct earful. However, I also work with awesome people who are caring and down to earth. Some of us have confided in the group, and are open about medical issues that we or our family members are dealing with. Others are more private at work and EVERYONE respects those boundaries.

    That said, in a less dysfunctional group, if I were not the type of person to be direct and let them squirm – I’d tell the office gossip (or have my closest friend tell the office gossip) and let it make its way back – and then let them squirm. If you have friends at the office who would help you and “circle the fort” so you can focus on doing what you have to do, I’d ask them for help.

  29. Banditcoot*

    We have a Lavinia in our office too. The only thing we share is office space, and contact is minimal, if not altogether non-existent. Still doesn’t stop her from complaining about how other departments operate in comparison to her own.

    A few years ago, she went on a witch hunt, complaining about an employee, “Stuart” in another department who was allowed to work remotely full time. “Stuart” was my mentor, close friend and sometime arch nemesis who was on FLMA while undergoing treatment for cancer. She complained to HR and upper management about the unfairness of it all. It backfired on her big time. Really damaged her reputation throughout the company, as most of us knew the backstory but weren’t saying anything out of respect for him (30 year veteran and much loved by all).

    Sadly, “Stuart” did not win his battle with cancer and passed away last winter. But we still have good old Lavinia. Never a stellar employee, she was subdued for a while but still complains whenever she has the opportunity. Some people just like to make trouble where none exists.

  30. Elizabeth West*

    Commenting before I read all the other comments, but seriously? If she goes to HR and they are any good at all, they’ll tell her to shut her pie hole, mind her own effing business, and get back to work.* What a horrible cow-irker.

    *fantasy scenario, but still!

  31. This is not me*

    When I read this: “I want no accusations of trying to “get sympathy” from anyone” I assumed op meant that if she explained the reason, Lavinia would go on to complain that op was using the situation to make everyone feel sorry for him/her. Maybe that’s not right, but I have certainly worked with some Lavinias, who when confronted with an explanation that would make things seem reasonable, would turn the explanation into yet another complaint.

  32. LCL*

    I dunno, I have had the role of Lavinia in the past. Though without the passive-aggressive sniping or threatening to go to HR; I always believed in asking direct questions.
    OP, the issue with your parent sucks. I am dealing with something similar at the moment. But you can’t change your hours and have more absences without a minimal explanation to your coworkers. A minimal explanation that preserves your privacy is “I am taking intermittent FMLA.” That should be it, repeat as necessary.
    Some people will argue that your absences aren’t anyone else’s business. If they work with you, it is their business, a little bit. Not the details, but the fact that management knows and that you are properly accounting for your time.

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      I agree. I have all the sympathy in the world for the OP. She is balancing her job and personal life in a ways that is truly admirable, navigating circumstances that would cause many of us to lose the ability to manage things so smoothly.

      But her coworkers really are owed an explanation. I too have been Lavinia in the past. I didn’t make passive-aggressive remarks. I simply walked out of the job when the stress of the added workload and the lack of transparency got to be too much. My coworker was going through personal issues and our boss graciously allowed her extra time off to get things in order, but the work still needed to get done and it was piled on me. I resented being seen as backup for someone else, when that wasn’t what my position actually was. My coworker’s stresses ended up affecting me so majorly that I had to leave the job for the sake of my health.

      This particular angle isn’t OP’s problem (the business should be built to function while the employees are dealing with the ups and downs of being real human beings), but Lavinia isn’t out of line for being bothered that she’s not clued into a key aspect of how her team is going to be operating for the time being. The OP is popping in and out and her teammates don’t know her schedule? She and her team aren’t there are the same time? I can think of a lot of reasons why that could end up being a problem. Management should have worked out a better plan from day 1. If any of the team members have had to stay late to cover the work load, even just one time, they are owed some information. This situation isn’t the OP’s fault, but her coworkers are still covering for her.

    2. Judy*

      I’m not sure it’s anyone’s business that you’re accounting for your time. No one but your manager needs to worry about PTO vs sick vs FMLA vs any of those concurrently.

      I would say that it is some of your co-worker’s business when you will be in the office and out, and if you’re available during the times you are not physically in the office. This is only their business for the co-workers who need to interact with you to do their job.

  33. Stargazer*

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May at 31. I’ve been missing more work than normal because of treatment. I know this is just me, and not everyone wants to be open about their personal issues, but I find being open about it keeps co-workers from feeling like I’m getting special treatment. They know not to be envious when Stargazer’s missing work again!

    1. C*

      good luck with treatment, Stargazer. I was diagnosed with breast cancer this year too, age 38. I have also been open with colleagues, though I didn’t tell every single person directly. My colleagues are awesome–hope yours are too. My treatment isn’t causing visible side effects so I don’t talk about it much and most people don’t know I’m having it (they all knew I went out for surgery earlier though) but am grateful for my coworkers’ quiet support. Be well & know you are not the only one facing this in your 30s.

      1. Stargazer*

        I’d like to hear more about your situation, if you’re willing to share. My email is geminiwithcancer (at)!

        1. C*

          Hi again Stargazer, sorry for not replying earlier. I didn’t want to ignore you! But I’m at a point where I’m sort of drawing a tighter circle around myself when it comes to communicating with people about my situation. I hope that makes sense. I’ve been generally very open with friends and family, but have found that writing about it in great detail and then fielding questions takes more out of me than I expected, emotionally speaking. But please do know that I wish you the best and I hope you get all the support and wonderful medical care you need!

  34. Whatever Works Girl*

    My thought is that co-workers should generally be kept informed about schedule changes because it can impact an entire group of people when one person is missing or showing up at new/different hours. For this reason, I’m a bit surprised that this wasn’t addressed at the time the leave was arranged.

    Given that it wasn’t, perhaps now is the time for the manager to email or talk with the team. “You’ll probably notice that Jane is going to be working a different schedule than usual. This has all been arranged through me and if you have any questions about how this impacts you, feel free to see me.”

    Having said that, most people develop at least some sort of friendly relationship with others in the workplace. Letting them know (perhaps in very general terms) what is going on seems reasonable. “My mom is very sick. I’ve been working on my schedule with Lisa and John. This whole thing sucks.”

  35. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    Disclaimer: I work with people are are reliably polite, empathetic, and understanding, in some part because most of them are human services professionals. That said, there are tons of nice people in every field who have experienced their own challenges and care about others.

    I would really encourage you to say something to the people around you. Some people in my office share a lot of detail, and some people share only a little cryptic information. All fine. But, when others are aware that their co-worker is having a tough time, they are noticeably more patient, forgiving, flexible, and willing to pick up a bit of slack. They will often remind others to do the same. You have a LOT on your plate. You might be surprised how much a little support (even a tiny bit!) from your co-workers could help you feel less stressed and more cared for.

    1. neverjaunty*

      While I agree with you, 1) OP clearly doesn’t, as Lavinia exists in her workplace and apparently nobody is putting a leash on her, and 2) as some people have posted above, there is really, really a wide range of comfort with sharing personal things with co-workers. Some people are completely fine with explaining what the problem is. Others need work to be the place where they do not have to deal with it, at all.

      1. Observer*

        But that’s just it. Why WOULD anyone put a leash on Lavinia? As far as anyone knows, the OP actually IS getting special treatment. If someone in the office knew that she’s actually dealing with FMLA leave, this might work out very differently.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Because Lavinia’s behavior is completely out of line and needs to be stopped. If Lavinia had a genuine complaint, she could go to HR (as she’s pretending she’ll do) or speak to her supervisor about the perceived unfairness. Snotty remarks to OP, or in front of OP and obviously directed to her, are not a plan to get management to change things; they’re just nastiness to OP because Lavinia doesn’t like it.

          1. Observer*

            Sure, Lavinia’s behavior is out of line. But, most people are not going to make the effort to stop nasty behavior around an issue they have no sympathy for. People are likely to think something like “There’s Lavinia again. She needs to grow up. But, I’m not about to get in the middle of a fight between a baby and Miss Entitled. If she doesn’t like it, let her go to her protectors in management.” If you ask them, they’ll say “Leave me out of it!”

            If they realize what the situation really is, perspectives and behavior change. At minimum, people recognize that one person is out of line and the other is not – this is NOT two people misbehaving. And, a lot of people who would otherwise stay out of it, might react differently, if only to the extent of saying something like “Could we get back to the business at hand instead of wasting it on OPs personal life?” or “If you need family leave, take it up with management instead of complaining to me about it.”

      2. AnnieNonymous*

        There are two sides to this though. I’m just that odd person who’s never had to take off much time from work (I don’t have kids, and I don’t have much in the way of family). Whenever someone takes maternity leave or has to nurse her husband through a medical issue or do anything else that detracts from the job, the leftovers fall in my lap, to the extent that they often eat up my personal time. Now, it’s their right to take off the time that they have been allowed. Even so, it’s hard to not have the thought of, “Jane’s personal life is being treated as more important and valid than mine…so much so that I’m sacrificing my time, comfort, and happiness for her.” It’s gotten to the point where I have logged significantly more time at my desk than coworkers have, and I’m not getting paid any more than they are. I have never been in a position to expect them to pick up my slack when it was necessary. I had a coworker lose an inordinate number of family members in the past year, and she missed a lot of work for funerals. Then her brother was hospitalized. I truly felt terrible for her and her family, but the office couldn’t handle the absences. I missed important events in my private life (this was around the holidays) because the deadlines still had to be met. These things add up, and while Lavinia sucks in her interpretations and reactions, I’m not jumping to the conclusion that she’s wrong to be annoyed. This one coworker, through no fault of her own, had a private life that had major effects on mine for a long time. It was especially terrible because sometimes I only found out after the fact what was going on. It SUCKS to cover for an absent employee who is still being paid, especially if you’re not able to take your own time off to recharge.

        Generally, these things cycle around. Eventually most women will go on maternity leave and everyone will have to grapple with a health issue of some kind. However, I think it’s worth appreciating that your coworkers might be unduly burdened by your own life choices and obligations, especially if we’re talking about the type of coworker whose life circumstances don’t line up with office-sanctioned leave and schedule shifts. You can feel for the OP while also understanding that her family circumstances are having a ripple effect on coworkers. The idea that employees are not accountable to each other and don’t owe each other basic clarifying information doesn’t jive with any workplace I’ve ever been in.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Sorry, couldn’t disagree more. We all have uncharitable and unfair thoughts, but really, you do realize thhat you’re saying you resent your co-workers because you have had fewer crises in your workplace? Also, I’m a bit confused – you say that you don’t have to miss work much, but then say you had to miss important events. Surely both can’t be true.

          As you say, these things cycle around. Knowing that I have to pick up the slack for a co-worker who has a crisis doesn’t mean that I have a moral right to demand the details of why I’m picking up their slack: knowing why Wakeen is in the hospital makes zero dent in the amount of his work I’m covering.

          1. AnnieNonymous*

            I missed important family and social events because I had to log a lot of extra hours to do my coworkers’ work. I don’t see how that’s improbable.

            Honestly, I don’t care if it seems uncharitable. A woman can only cover for so many other women’s maternity leaves before it seems ridiculous that she’s not getting time off to tend to her own wants and interests. Giving birth and caring for a newborn isn’t easy, but women do it because they want to. I would love to take a few months away from work to do the things I want with the expectation that my work would be done by other people.

            1. Bob, short for Kate*

              Don’t blame your co-workers for having personal lives, blame your management for under-staffing so that their only contingency plan is you.

              Have you raised this with your boss?

      3. Kara*

        Others need work to be the place where they do not have to deal with it, at all.

        The issue is that until you (generic you) work in a time and place where your schedule, work, actions, and attitude have zero impact on your coworkers, you DO have to deal with elements of your life as they relate to work. No one is saying that the OP has to bare her deepest emotions or go into gory detail, but I disagree with the idea that “none of your coworkers is owed an explanation”.

        If what’s going on in your life outside of work is affecting your work – be it quality, quantity, or availability, then the people you work with ARE owed some kind of explanation. Even if it’s “I’m taking family leave for a personal situation and have cleared it with HR. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

        Acting like your workday exists in a vacuum is, IMO, unreasonable, no matter where your comfort level lies.

        Trust me, I’m not just blathering on here. I’ve lost both of my parents and a partner/boyfriend and each time it did affect my work and my schedule. And I did owe my co-workers a basic explanation of why I was absent/unavailable during normal work hours as well as why I was distracted, tired, and not 100% there when I was there. It’s simple common courtesy if nothing else.

  36. Nobody*

    I’m a private person, so I totally understand your desire to keep the details of your situation confidential, but it really might help to mention that it is FMLA leave. If Lavinia isn’t a completely terrible person (which may or may not be the case), as soon as she realizes that it’s FMLA leave, she’ll be mortified about her snide remarks. You shouldn’t have to give any details like who is sick and what’s wrong because most halfway decent people understand that FMLA leave is for something serious and it’s your legal right to use it. If she asks, just say you’d prefer not to talk about it.

    But if you don’t even give a hint of what’s going on, for all Lavinia knows, the boss is letting you flex your schedule so you can get to your belly dancing class, and maybe she’s mad because she asked to flex her schedule so she could get a root canal and the boss said no. You’re right that it’s none of her business, but part of the problem may be that she doesn’t know it’s none of her business.

  37. justK*

    I can’t help but wonder why the name “Lavinia” was chosen here.

    Anyway, OP can’t control anyone’s behavior but his/her own. “Lavinia” and co. may be jerks but nothing can be done about that. That said, I agree with Alison’s advice to address “Lavinia” directly. I have learned that in the workplace it’s best to confront things head on, before things get out of control and the rumor mill gets churning.

  38. The OP*

    After reviewing the responses to my question (I’m the OP for this question) I feel the need to clarify a few things. 1) My schedule has VERY, VERY little impact on my co- workers as we all work independently. 2) The whining I individual is upset because she was “forced” to use PTO to schedule an appointment instead of being allowed to make up the time AND KEEP HER PTO. She is under the MISTAKEN assumption that I am being allowed to schedule appointments and make up the time WHILE KEEPING MY PTO. This is not the case obviously. Office policy is to schedule off you have to have PTO and USE IT. No one is allowed to schedule off and make up time while KEEPING PTO they have. On case by case basis, people can speak to managers regarding scheduled time off that is unpaid if they have EXHAUSTED PTO….and if said case is deemed to be ongoing or a significant impact in unpaid time off ….making up time by working LONGER days when possible and after available PTO is exhausted has been allowed to keep work flowing as we always need the help during all open work hours at my company. As only a minute amount of what might be considered by some to be teamwork is actually ever needed….we don’t really know each other in my office. I don’t know this sniping woman AT ALL…and she is just mad because she thinks I have a bigger slice if cake. I refuse to tell ANYONE about my situation because (unfortunately) half of the people in my office are bona fide back-biters and many are seniority. These individuals have pull and would view my situation as a bid for sympathy and preferential treatment that is UNFAIR. The nicer ones are newer and therefore not as well respected. All things considered, I decided it is best to try to keep my head down as I REALLY need my job. And, FYI …my performance HAS NOT WAIVERED during all of this. I have soldiered on for almost a year and my goals are met or exceeded EVERY month. I’m an only child and I am KILLING myself to keep it all going. My manager, who does know the gory details, commented recently that she is surprised ( in a good way) at the steadfastness of my performance. For now, I’m ignoring the complainer but it may get worse.

    1. TootsNYC*

      You know, I don’t think anyone has said this (I know this is such a late comment), but I think your manager should be saying something to her. Was your manager not in that meeting? Is your manager not hearing these comments?

      I think the manager should be saying, in the moment, “Lavinia, this leave was approved through HR. Please come talk to me about this later.” And then say, in private, “Please stop with these comments. I can’t share all the details. But if you have a solid reason why you need some special accommodation, know that you can bring the request to your manager and to HR, and they will work with you within the law and company policies. But I can’t have these comments being made anymore–they’re disruptive. These things need to be discussed in private.”

      Really, the manager needs to be out in front of this problem; it shouldn’t be on the OP to solve.

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