struggling to accommodate coworkers’ medical leave in a small office

A reader writes:

I work in a seven-person county department. Our work is client-facing, and we handle inquiries by email, phone, and walk-in. We have one full-time employee, Tyrion, who has been on intermittent FMLA for years. The absences are unpredictable, and always just a day or two at a time. It’s difficult to work around, but we’ve managed to cover so far.

The problem is, we now have a second employee, Cersei, who is also on intermittent FMLA, with similar unpredictable absences. To make matters worse, Cersei is our admin, so when she is out, we all have to cover the phones and her other duties. We are trying our best to be compassionate, but it is getting harder and harder for the rest of us to get our own work done, and morale is suffering.

Due to the nature of our work and budget constraints, temps are not feasible. The rest of us are becoming more and more resentful, and we often wonder what would happen if someone else has a health issue. When does the bottom drop out? For example, just this week, we had one person on vacation and then Cersei and Tyrion both called in. So we were missing three out of our seven staff members.

Our boss is wonderful and does her best to accommodate everyone’s scheduling needs and always pitches in to help. The rest of us have thought of talking to her regarding our frustration with this situation, but the consensus seems to be, “It’s FMLA so nothing can be done.” I realize this is not our problem to solve, but do you or your readers have any ideas on how we can constructively deal with this? We don’t want to turn into the Lavinia mentioned in the letter last month, but we’re getting burnt out.

Talk to your manager. It’s not your job to decide that there’s no good solution to this and so just stay quiet; it’s your job to raise the issue, let your manager know that it’s causing stress and impacting your work, and let her figure out how to deal with it.

That might mean hiring more staff, hiring temporary staff, or pulling back on projects. Or, sure, she might ultimately conclude that there aren’t good alternatives. But by not speaking up about the situation, you’re making that decision for her, and denying her relevant information that she really should have.

Talking to your manager isn’t the same thing as criticizing Tyrion and Cersei or being bitter or resentful about your coworker’s medical needs (unless you were to take that tone, but it doesn’t sound at all like that’s where you’re coming from). It just means saying, “Hey, we understand Tyrion and Cersei’s schedule needs, but it’s impacting our ability to do our jobs in X, Y, and Z ways, and we want to bring it to your attention so we can hopefully figure out a solution.”

Tell your manager what’s going on so that she has the info she needs to do her job. (That assumes she’s a reasonably good manager, of course, and wants to know this kind of thing, but you say she’s wonderful so I’m going to assume she’d want you to come to her.)

Addendum: Commenters are asking what options the manager will have. If the manager were writing in, I’d tell her: Handle this the way you would any other issue of unrealistic workload, meaning that you consider things like bringing in temporary help, borrowing staff from another department on days when it’s needed, reprioritizing projects, pushing some things to the back burner or canceling them altogether, streamlining a big project (instead of doing Fancy Teapot Carnival this year, we’re only going to do an afternoon teapot demonstration), transferring the employee on FMLA to a comparable job in another department where the absences will have less impact, etc. If none of that is feasible or solves the problem, then you escalate it above you — by telling your own manager “we don’t currently have the staffing to accomplish everything on our plate because of the FMLA situation — can we figure out what to do?” And then your own manager gets involved in the sort of questions above and presumably has even more authority than you do to change things up as needed.

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    I am in no way shape or form advocating for the dismissal of Cersei or Tyrion, but doesn’t FMLA only apply if there are more than 50 employees?

    1. sunny-dee*

      Also, though, FMLA only applies with a doctor’s note. I don’t know all the ins-and-outs, and there are some rules to keep people from denying leave, but if they suspect that C and T are abusing FMLA, they can require a doctor note that outlines what the medical condition is and what reasonable expectations are. And they can deny leave if it doesn’t meet certain criteria.

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        For FMLA, you generally don’t need a doctor’s note for each intermittent occurrence. You only have to certify every so often for the continuing need for intermittent leave (and that the expected number of occurrences in a given time period hasn’t increased or decreased).

        1. Anonsie*

          This, and the type of assessment sunny-dee is advocating here is already what’s required to get and keep FMLA in the first place.

  2. Chriama*

    If the manager was the one writing in, what would the advice be? It sounds like they work for the government, so there might not be money to hire more people. And the volume of work doesn’t go away if they’re public-facing, so the only thing they can do is decrease the quality of service. Other than setting lower targets for their KPIs and being ok with that, is there anything a manager can do? Middle management can be a tough place – upper management wants results, subordinates want support, and you’re stuck trying to negotiate compromises between 2 groups of people with wildly different perspectives.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Huh. The OP can’t solve the problem; she can only bring it to her manager. The answer for her is: Speak up.

        If the manager were writing in, I’d say: Handle this the way you would any other issue of unrealistic workload, meaning that you consider things like bringing in temporary help, borrowing staff from another department on days when it’s needed, reprioritizing projects, pushing some things to the back burner or canceling them altogether, streamlining a big project (instead of doing Fancy Teapot Carnival this year, we’re only going to do an afternoon teapot demonstration), transferring the employee on FMLA to a comparable job in another department where the absences will have less impact, etc. If none of that is feasible or solves the problem, then you escalate it above you — by telling your own manager “we don’t currently have the staffing to accomplish everything on our plate because of the FMLA situation — can we figure out what to do?” And then your own manager gets involved in the sort of questions above and presumably has even more authority than you do to change things up as needed.

        1. BRR*

          I think people were looking for answers to the situation, not the letter. While the actual answer for the LW is talk to your manager, I think heymacerana (great name) and Chriama wanted something like, “you should go to your manager who should do A,B, or C.”

              1. Chriama*

                Yes, that is the kind of information I was looking for. And now that you’ve said it, it makes total sense :)

      2. The IT Manager*

        I feel like sjw below answered with great potential solutions what can be done, but all of his solutions are thing that only management can do. The only answer for the co-workers is talk to their manger about the problem and put the ball in their court.

        When I was a new college grad, I once had a boss that said, “we don’t present problems without solutions” and that bugged me. Sometimes you (and in my case as a recent college grad) don’t have a solution but could well see that there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Ugh, I feel like what your old boss said is a business platitude that doesn’t always work in real life.

        2. cardiganed librarian*

          If that’s your motto, then don’t be surprised if a problem escalates and blows up on you because no one ever mentioned it!

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              Whoops. That’s supposed to agree with cardiganed librarian and it doesn’t read that way. Sorry.

            2. OfficePrincess*

              Exactly. If I had a solution either I’d just do it or pop in and say “X is happening, I’m going to Y. Sound good?”

        3. Middle Name Jane*

          Thank you @The IT Manager. My own manager has the philosophy of “don’t come to me with a problem unless you have a solution for it.” Hello! That’s why she’s the manager. Yes, I can problem solve and get things figured out. But those are things I solve myself. If I go to my manager, it’s because I *don’t* know what the solution is and need assistance. I rarely end up asking my manager for anything–and then in my reviews, she tells me that I should come to her more often! Which is it? Come to you all the time when I already have a situation figured out, or don’t bother you?

          1. Happy Lurker*

            Ugh, I can’t stand this. My other peeve is when you ask a question and that is suddenly your new job. *sigh* I don’t ask questions much anymore…

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              Yes! I hate this! Not just because I hate feeling like I can’t bring up a concern without automatically becoming responsible for solving it, but because, as Happy Lurker noted, it teaches people not to ask questions at all.

              I just encountered a variant of this: commenting on a shared document on topic X, in response to “anyone can comment on this document!” — turns out that adding a comment had a secret meaning: “You commented on the document, so now you’re on the steering committee for topic X!” Wait, what?

          2. Hellanon*

            Hmm. I never see that statement as “you have to have a 100% plan to solve the problem before bringing it up” but rather as an invitation to think things through enough to go in with the problem and 2-3 potential solutions. Then my boss can say, okay, I like A, but let’s consider x,y,z first… I tend to read this comment as a form of training for me, not as a passive-aggressive way of getting me to go away. Although it is an excellent way of shutting down whining of the “Somebody should…” variety.

            1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

              With reasonable bosses this is usually the way it is meant by them. But if the boss is unreasonable, I can see how the other scenarios play out…

          3. jules*

            I had the reverse experience with a former manager. If I had or saw a problem, and came to them with a hint of a possible solution, they saw it as me overstepping my duties and trying to steal their jobs.
            You can’t win.

        4. Anonsie*

          I would bet real American dollars that this was part of boss’s management training at some corporate retreat or part of some fancy program your company was trying to have trickle down with new and exciting business practices that involved a lot of cute mottos, acronyms, and words like “opportunity.”

          1. Anna*

            Also “empowerment”. EmPOWER them to solve their own problems! EmPOWER them to be proactive!

        5. Mephyle*

          For the management philosophy “don’t bring me a problem without a solution”, I fantasize this: “My problem is that you won’t accept me coming to you with a problem unless I also bring a solution, yet in my reviews, you tell me that I should come to you more often. The solution I propose that you change the way you handle this, and help me find and implement solutions if I bring you a problem I don’t know how to solve.”

        6. Mitchell*

          In defense of this idea, sometimes the solution is for the manager to do something, eg. hire more people. That’s a valid solution in my book. I just don’t like conversations that end with nothing changing. That is what I call complaining.

    1. Jennifer*

      This kind of thing happens in my office all the time. We don’t have intermittent FMLA going on, but we’re ridiculously short staffed and the top managers categorically refuse to replace anyone who leaves or retires. Once in a great while they might deign to hire a temp for six months, but they won’t hire anyone else to do the public facing bits at all. Any time someone’s sick–and we had three out this week–well, ARGH.

  3. LBK*

    I know this isn’t the OP’s problem to solve but out of curiosity, if you were the manager what would be your solution, assuming temps truly aren’t viable? I’m really at a loss here. Assuming this isn’t prevented by FMLA I feel like I’d have to let at least one of them go – at some point it must cross the line into no longer being a reasonable accommodation, right? Or do FMLA and the ADA not mix that way?

    1. MT*

      FMLA only covers a certain numbers of days per year. Once those days are used up, normal attendance policy kicks in.

        1. Meg Murry*

          It’s 12 weeks per calendar year – and many places institute it on a rolling calendar year. So that could work out to 60 days per year, which is a little more than 1 day per week, all year long, or almost 2.5 days a week for 6 months.

          1. fposte*

            I think people often calculate 480 hours for full-time non-exempt employees, which translates to 68 days.

    2. fposte*

      They can overlap in some confusing ways. FMLA is about time off, full stop; if you meet the standard, you get the time off, and that’s up to twelve weeks per year. There’s no “is it reasonable for the business” calibration along the way. And twelve weeks is nothing to sneeze at, from a workplace standard.

      A reasonable accommodation for the ADA could involve time off, but usually that’s not time off as an ongoing plan but time off for surgery, treatment, something with a stated return date. Additionally, Nolo says, “If regular attendance is an essential function of the job (as it often is), some courts have found that an employee who needs a significant amount of time off is not qualified for the job, and therefore is neither protected by the ADA nor entitled to a reasonable accommodation.”

      So you can get time off under FMLA that your office wouldn’t be required to give you under the ADA even if it’s for a disability, and you could be eligible for time off under the ADA even if you’re not eligible for FMLA. My wild guess is that a court wouldn’t be likely, though, to consider accommodation beyond twelve weeks’ leave per year a requisite accommodation for ADA, so I don’t think it’s likely to extend leave beyond FMLA; it’s more relevant if the person who falls under ADA isn’t actually eligible for FMLA.

      1. Anonsie*

        Re: ongoing time off, it’s a little fuzzier there but it can apply. It would be considered discriminatory to not allow someone time away from work that they needed due to a disability if you do allow similar time away to other employees for other purposes. They basically have to give you the same wiggle room they give everyone else, and disciplining you differently is an issue. At least that’s how it reads to me.

        And if anyone thinks that’s oddly specific because why would anyone crack down on you for doing the same thing as everyone else when you have a medical need, you better believe people do it.

          1. fposte*

            Though another complication is that for ADA it would matter whether those employees had the same position as the person who wants time out as an accommodation; I think you could have different standards, for instance, for a receptionist than a teacher in the same school, because you could plausibly argue that the attendance needs for the job differ.

            1. Anonsie*

              Yes yes, this is assuming they are in comparable positions. If I recall correctly it doesn’t specify that they have to be in the exact same job, but ones with similar requirements.

        1. fposte*

          For FMLA, they have to have worked enough hours (1250 in the previous 12 months) to be eligible, so the answer is “yes, for some.” The weeks are calculated based on their hours, though, so you wouldn’t get 480 hours of FMLA if you were working 30 hours a week, even though you’d still get 12 weeks. (Not sure if I’m explaining that clearly, so I hope it made sense.)

          Employee-number thresholds are the same for part-time and full-time; same for ADA.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Just know , however, that taking FMLA in the private sector – in an “at will” employment situation – can get you fired (eventually).

      1. Jaydee*

        FMLA doesn’t create a right to paid leave, but if the employer offers paid leave (sick leave or PTO) they usually overlap. So if you are on FMLA leave for 6 weeks and have 10 days of paid sick leave available, you would be paid for two weeks of your leave Nd then have four weeks of unpaid leave.

        1. Helka*

          That would still be no more paid time than a non-FMLA person would get, though. So one could reasonably presume that the paid time is already accounted for in their budget.

  4. themmases*

    The OP should definitely just tell their boss. I’ve decided before that based on what I knew of a situation, nothing could be done (and sometimes I knew a lot and that really seemed reasonable to assume!). Sometimes I was right, but other times I’ve been really surprised by things my boss suggested that I probably would never have thought of. They have a different perspective than you do as an individual contributor, and they often have information– such about the actual budget for temps or the department’s priorities as a whole– that you won’t.

    1. Xarcady*

      I agree with speaking up.

      Off the top of my head, possible solutions could include transferring one of the FMLA employees to a different department where their absences would not have as much of an impact and replacing them with a transfer from yet another department, hiring a part-time flex-schedule employee to help out with the workload, arranging with another department to “borrow” one of their employees on days when both FMLA employees are out, or re-prioritzing work on days when staffing is short. Depending on the rules of the workplace, there are all sorts of creative ways to deal with the problem, but the manager has to know the problem exists before she can do anything.

    2. Meg Murry*

      In addition, the boss may know things that the OP doesn’t, or doesn’t realize isn’t trickling down. For instance, maybe Cersei already has several doctors appointments scheduled and has informed the boss of them, but hasn’t informed the people covering for her, thinking the boss is doing that, and meanwhile OP is not finding out that Cersei is going to be out until the day she shows up and now OP needs to cover the phones instead of writing the report she was planning to do that day.

      Could the group make use of a shared calendar, where everyone can put all planned time out of the office on? It doesn’t have to go into detail about whether it’s vacation/sick/FMLA – just “Jane – Out 8/13” . “Cersei – out 8/14” so that everyone can look at what is scheduled to know what to expect. Obviously, that isn’t going to work for the days Cersei and Tyrion call out, but it might help for the days they know they will be out. Ideally, the boss can also talk to them about when the project they might be out (as in, chances are the day after a chemo treatment, the person might be feeling bad, so they probably won’t be in – so lets assume they won’t, but they can come in if they are feeling up to it).

      As for what else the OP could do, could they swap with a co-worker of a similar station? As in “on days when Cersei isn’t here, can you handle phones for the mornings and I’ll handle them for the afternoon”? Or even a bigger rotation, like “I’ll handle phones whenever Cersei is out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jane takes Mondays and Wednesdays and Bob takes Fridays” so you each know when to schedule a lighter day?

      And as for what else the OP can do – cross train and document her job, to see what tasks can be passed around as needed for coverage. Make a list of things that a temp could help OP with while OP is covering for Cersei and Tyrion. Maybe the temp can’t do all of OP’s job, but they might be able to make copies or file paperwork or something to take off some of the general burden.

      1. Jessa*

        Yes, management needs to decide what Cersei and Tyrion’s essential duties are and do some kind of rota of people to cover those when they are out. Just because the OP thinks x needs to be done when Tyrion is out, it may not follow that management cares about x.

  5. MsM*

    “we often wonder what would happen if someone else has a health issue”

    I wonder if this might be a possible way to approach the discussion? You could say that the vacation issue came close to breaking a system that was already strained in terms of time management and available resources, and while you want to be sensitive to Cersei and Tyrion’s needs, the rest of you need to know you can take time off without things becoming unsustainable for the rest of the department.

  6. sjw*

    There are a couple of possible solutions here, but ultimately the manager and HR will need to resolve this.

    First of all, intermittent FMLA needs to be managed closely. You can require that the employee obtain re-certification on a reasonable schedule, for example, every 30 days. While this likely won’t make the situation go away, it DOES prevent abuse of someone treating their FMLA approval for intermittent leave as a ticket to call in at will.

    FMLA does not require employers to keep the EXACT job open, but rather, a comparable job. Within a large government agency, I’m thinking there are likely to be other departments that are larger, that could utilize a returning employee. Similarly, if intermittent leave is too disruptive to operations (and 2 people in a 7 person department sure seems disruptive) then the employee needing leave can be transferred — temporarily — to another “similar” position in another department.

    Also, employers can in some cases require the employee to accomodate certain schedules for intermittent leave, if it’s for something in the employee’s control. (i.e., medical appointments). Employees can be required to schedule appointments at times that are less disruptive.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      What would “recertification” require? A visit to a doctor? Depending on the types of medical conditions requiring them to see a doctor every 30 days could be really difficult and/or just silly. It seems likely that they may have chronic illnesses that have occasional flare-ups in which case their condition is not going to change significantly in 30 days. The OP says these absences are unpredictable, so it’s probably not for appointments because those would be scheduled.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yeah…there are a lot of chronic illnesses that can lead to this sort of thing. And mostly it’s not appointments, it’s “I have to stay home and rest” or “I have to stay home and take this pill that will make me too dizzy to drive in” or the like.

        And while I know people worry about someone abusing it – when you have one of those illnesses, you wouldn’t want to use one day of the FMLA time for “a fun day off” because you might *need* it later for an un-fun, but necessary, day off.

        Requiring recertification every 30 days…if that means a doctor has to be involved, you’re wasting the doctor’s time, the employee’s time and money, and you’re also guaranteeing an extra missed half-day every month. Not good when you’re already stretched thin, and not fair to an employee who may need that time for actual medical issues rather than just sitting around healthy in a doctor’s office so the doctor can say “Yep, your (incurable as far as we know) condition is still not cured.”

        1. jamlady*

          Yup. I have one of these chronic illnesses – it’s not exactly something I can throw into a calendar for my boss. It’s random and sometimes extremely sudden where the only notice my boss can get is a quick text (which she’s cool with). And every time someone pressures me to go to the doctor (like that will somehow solve all of the problems), I just tell them it’s a waste of time, money, and it’s something I’ve had for over 10 years so please let me be the judge of when I need medical attention.

          1. Anonsie*


            You can require that the employee obtain re-certification on a reasonable schedule, for example, every 30 days. While this likely won’t make the situation go away, it DOES prevent abuse of someone treating their FMLA approval for intermittent leave as a ticket to call in at will.

            Pleeeeaaaase do not do this. If you have a problem with someone being away from work too much, it is not going to help you for them to have to add a monthly doctor’s appointment to that taking them out even more. Odds are also good that the only way to get a standing appointment like that is to take an undesirable timeslot in the middle of the morning or afternoon, so it would mean a huge chunk of the day away.

            On top of that, it makes it harder for everyone else to get into see their doctor when people are going in for senseless appointments. On top of the top of that, someone who is already trying to balance everything around a disability does not need recertifying their FMLA every few weeks to the pile of stuff they’re trying to make work. It’s a significantly larger burden on that person than it would be on a healthy person, to an extent I don’t think most people appreciate.

            And on top of that, this is just patently insulting to someone who has a long term or permanent illness. “It’s been four weeks, time to prove you’re still going to be sick forever, Wakeen.” Christ.

            1. sunny-dee*

              Recertification is only a problem if C and T (or close family members) have truly legitimate and chronic problems. It is exceptionally common for people to abuse FMLA, though — it’s free time off. I did work for one client who managed a hospital cleaning staff. They had almost 60% of their work force out at any given time. Just by instituting the requirement to recertify, that dropped to a little over 20% off.

              It is entirely possible that both C and T are in situations where the time off is totally required, and recertification would be a hardship, but that would become clear after doing it once or twice. But it’s also possible (and, to be honest, likely) that they’re abusing FMLA and won’t even bother with the recertification.

              1. Anonsie*

                Why is that likely abuse, and how would your manager somehow know whether or not it was abuse based on having you recertify a couple of times? I would just about guarantee you they’re already having to recertify more than once a year, so increasing the time points just enough to be annoying is not going to produce some new and exciting information.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Why would you guarantee that? Part of the problem is some workplaces is that they don’t require recertification, which leads to abuse.

                  Think of it like that unlimited vacation policy. It’s nice when everyone is respectful of how it’s used. There can be problems when someone isn’t respectful.

                2. Anonsie*

                  Because it’s much more likely that they do require periodic recertification, as that’s significantly more common? And that doesn’t explain why you’re assuming they’re abusing it just because they’re using it at all.

                  I have a lot of feelings about “think about it like an unlimited vacation policy” that I’ll just let go here.

              2. themmases*

                This is a really faulty assumption. The fact that recertification decreased FMLA use doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who stopped using FMLA didn’t really need it; it just means that it became too hard for them to use. Whether that’s “too hard to bother abusing anymore” or “too hard for me to make regular unnecessary doctor’s appointments on top of my bad health” can’t be known from this story.

                I have no idea why it’s considered acceptable for people to just assume that those on FMLA are abusing it. FMLA is unpaid, doesn’t protect the person’s exact job, and isn’t even available to many workers. It’s really the bare minimum that any employer could provide, and is much less than workers are guaranteed in other countries. The attitude that many caregivers and people with disabilities are actually just freeloading on an incredibly stingy “benefit” is offensive.

                Also, it’s not very hard to believe that many members of a cleaning staff– i.e. low-paid workers who do a manual job– would need FMLA. Living in poverty, having less education, and doing repetitive manual work are all very well-known risk factors for chronic disease.

                1. madge*

                  Absolutely love everything you said. If I watched a co-worker struggle with his/her health, then some ridiculous monthly re-certification rule was put in place I would have a hard time respecting management and keeping a positive attitude.

                  Not to mention that an extra $20 monthly co-pay expense plus extra transportation costs could be enough to wreck the budget of someone who is already underpaid.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  In the specific case of that one location, it was widespread abuse — FMLA was used heavily on days where there were school events, sporting events, concerts, or nice weather. The manager suspected (and it was largely confirmed) that many employees were using it as a vacation program.

                3. Jessa*

                  Not to mention that recertification usually requires you pay the doctor. A lot of people on FMLA are not getting paid leave (some are lucky enough to have holiday pay to burn and yes most places make you use up that time,) so that means an additional anywhere from 20 bucks or more when you’re not getting paid to take the day to go to the doctor. That’s presuming you’re insured and not paying retail which is usually more than 50-60 bucks. Where do they think a chronically ill person is supposed to get the money?

              3. Observer*

                It’s actually quite uncommon for people to abuse FMLA leave, because it happens to be UNPAID time.

                The fact that their FMLA use dropped so drastically MIGHT mean that a lot of people were abusing the system. Far more likely is that what they did was “FMLA interference” – ie technically allowing people to access their legal leave but making it so hard that they cannot do so in practice. The other highly likely cause is that the time off policies of the management were just too draconian, and people were using FMLA to get UNPAID time off to deal with medical issues without getting fired. The two latter are not mutually exclusive, either.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  Or, again, in the one specific case I know, they had other problems with tardiness and absenteeism. The FMLA abuse was a symptom of an overall cavalier approach to work. Changing the FMLA policy to require recertification addressed that one area of abuse; they did other things to work with lateness and not showing up.

              4. Judy*

                But FMLA can only be used for approximately 25% of the year per person, as 12 weeks is approximately 1/4 of the year. How could they have 60% of their work force out at any given time? Wouldn’t their work force soon run out of available FMLA leave? Or do you mean 60% of their people had signed FMLA agreements?

                1. fposte*

                  Oh, good catch, I missed that. Yes, even if 100% of your workforce is FMLA eligible, you wouldn’t have 60% out on average unless there was leave available other than FMLA.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  In their case, it was a combination of factors. They had 60% of their workforce not at work. A primary cause of that was FMLA abuse, but they also had regular vacations and sick days, a really horrible absenteeism rate, people working only part time instead of full shifts, and other issues.

        2. Anonsie*

          And while I know people worry about someone abusing it – when you have one of those illnesses, you wouldn’t want to use one day of the FMLA time for “a fun day off” because you might *need* it later for an un-fun, but necessary, day off.

          This is massive. I don’t get days off, this is something people don’t understand. I do not ever get to decide to take time off, ever ever ever, no vacations no half days to meet the repair guy no long weekend for camping. Often, not even time to travel and see my family for the holidays. I need all that time for days I’m ill.

          I don’t get anything out of this arrangement, this arrangement blows. When the only days you’re not at work are days you’re laid up because you’re sick, you never really get a day off. There’s no resting or recharging, there’s no recreation time like your colleagues get. This is not a fun way to have your life set up. We wouldn’t do it if we could avoid it.

          1. Zillah*

            Yep. I have a bad immune system and some chronic health issues on top of it, and I cannot imagine taking time off for fun. Maybe one day for a long weekend if I had super generous sick/vacation time or a flexible job that allowed me to work from home when something came up, but generally, I need to save those days.

          2. OhNo*


            I’m lucky enough to have excellent health, aside from the disability, but even so I have to plan to use most of my “time off” for medical appointments, equipment appointments, physical therapy appointments, and those days when my body decides it just doesn’t want to cooperate. Those aren’t fun laying-at-home-relaxing days for me, those are work days – they just happen to be work I’m not paid for.

            There was a comment here (a few days ago, I think) about the value of emotional labor and how much work it is. Caring about this stuff is work, keeping track of this stuff is work, checking your limits and providing necessary self-care when you’ve hit them is work, and it’s work you have to do if you want to survive with a disability or chronic illness. That’s something that very few people understand.

            If someone takes FMLA for reasons that you don’t think are valid, it’s not that they are “abusing” it – it’s just that they are using it to do work that you personally do not value.

            1. LCL*

              Sometimes. I still maintain the employee who told me ‘I would like the summer off, I know you won’t approve it so I will FMLA it’ abused the system. That doesn’t mean other people are abusing the system. That doesn’t mean if he takes FMLA in the future he is abusing the system again.

            2. Cordelia Longfellow*

              Indeed! I have several chronic health issues, and while I am blessed to have a job with generous health and leave policies (in Canada…I can’t imagine being able to work and function in the US), I do have appointments every single day off. It’s worth it to keep me going, but it IS work.

        3. Junebug*

          yup! My diagnosis is literally code for “we don’t know what to do for you.” Tried the approved drugs; they didn’t work. The last MD specialist actually referred me to a naturopath.

          At least I’ve found a diet that has helped reduce my symtoms significantly, and I actually feel like I have a life again, but I figured it out without any professionals. I’m resorting to totally woowoo stuff at this point.

      2. fposte*

        In general, if the initial certification indicates a return date later than 30 days, the employer isn’t supposed to ask for recertification (DOL language is a little fuzzy on how prohibited it is) until after that return date, so it’s not the automatic thing the conversation is making it sound like. Whether it requires a visit to the doctor or not is up to your doctor’s office. I got my FMLA certification like a month after my surgery by calling the doctor’s office; I didn’t have to go in.

        1. Dana*

          Not that I agree with recertifying every X days or whatever, but I was curious as to why that would necessitate an additional doctor’s appointment–even if the doctor won’t phone one in, if you go in to the office for an appointment for your issue anyway, why couldn’t you ask for a note (or whatever) then?

          1. fposte*

            I think people were talking about situations where they wouldn’t ordinarily go back to the doctor (I didn’t see a doctor again until something like 4 months after surgery, for instance, but still needed FMLA for longer than 30 days after it).

            Somebody in a doctor’s office may have more to say here, but I wonder if some doctors and health centers simply have a policy of limiting initial certification to 30 days, especially for chronic stuff. So some of this may come from medical unwillingness to certify for longer, too.

          2. Kyrielle*

            What fposte said – especially with something chronic that isn’t expected to get better, you might not see the doctor but once or twice a year like anyone else, unless the symptoms got worse overall (flares were stronger or lasted longer). With some diseases, flares or bad days aren’t unexpected; it’s increasing frequency or strength, only, that would send you back to the doctor.

            (I’m thinking of things like, among other things, migraines, IBS, Sjogren’s Syndrome, CFS, fibromyalgia….)

          3. Anonsie*

            Agreed with the above, but the other thing is billing. Everything your providers do for you is coded in a specific way and billed to your insurance based on what they did. Most insurance policies (no policies? can’t say I’ve ever seen it) don’t cover the time a provider spends on FMLA paperwork for you. So depending on how your doctor’s office codes and bills, they may not be willing to do it during your regular appointment and will require a separate appointment time to do it with you. Additionally, you’ll have to pay cash for that time at the time of the appointment.

            Then some places are totally fine with that or don’t require you to come in to do it if you’ve already established what’s going on with them and maintain care with them anyway. It really varies wildly by the practice’s policies and how cool your individual office’s staff are, honestly.

            1. Jenna*

              My doctor’s office charges a fifteen dollar fee to fill out forms. on my budget, I notice that. Co pays and fees add up faster than you think when you are doing chronic illnesses.

  7. Boboccio*

    Once had this issue with seven employees in an office (that is, every single employee) on intermittent FMLA and requiring significant accommodation under the ADA.

    1. fposte*

      Can you talk more about how you dealt with that? I’ve wondered this as being in a very small unit myself.

      1. Boboccio*

        Afraid I don’t have anything useful to say. We did the basics of getting repeated medical confirmation, hiring temps when there was money to do so, dealing with performance when it was not due to medical issues, but really we just ended up with a very low performing section that just did less than one would have otherwise expected.

        One complication was that no single employee had any requirements that could not be easily accommodated. The issue was that it was everyone at once.

        1. Chriama*

          Oh wow. Could you have distributed the employees among other departments? If not, if the critical mass of employees in one section causes issues, does that ever become an ‘unreasonable’ accommodation?

          1. Boboccio*

            Not even. These employees were singularly qualified for this one task. Maybe they could have answered phones somewhere or filed, but I’m not sure on that one.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, my unit would have deep trouble in a situation like that. We’ve struggled with considerably fewer accommodations (including my own, so it’s not like I’m just jealous).

  8. Retail Lifer*

    We face similar issues in the retail world all the time but there’s never a real solution. We can’t use temps, either, or hire on another person, so we just have to stretch ourselves thin and try to cover everything on a reduced staff. Other tasks often have to be put on hold so customers can be helped, and anyone on salary winds up having to come in early or stay late to finish those tasks.

  9. JAM*

    I know you’ve said temps aren’t a stand in but I worked in government and we actually utilized temps a lot. One way this worked though was to have temps hired by the county for the county. They were trained in a variety of duties and could fill in at elections in the 8 weeks surrounding an election date, they could fill in at the collector’s office at the end of the year when payments were due, and they could cover specialized departments with issues like FMLA, pregnancies, vacations, etc. Some people were employed nearly year-round while others did it on college break cycles. We had to have buy-in from all agencies to support training and from the leadership to recognize that gaps happen but service can’t lapse. Some temps (like me) used it as a way to gain skilled training and moved up to open positions as they came along but some people just liked variety enough or the flexible seasons so they stayed put.

    1. some1*

      My understanding of the letter is that temps aren’t an option because there is no money in the budget to hire them, not because they aren’t allowed to hire temps in govt positions.

      1. OfficePrincess*

        But if they’re temping for the county as a whole instead of individual departments, that may be easier to absorb into the budget for each department. It’s something that only the person handling the budget and contracts would be able to tell for sure, but it’s still worth investigating.

        1. De Minimis*

          From what I can tell, county and municipal governments can be pretty limited in how they use their funds [way more limited than the feds, for example.]

          We used temps a lot at my last job [federal] though they were more like “perma-temp” contractors. One temp probably wouldn’t be too expensive, but if it’s done anything like the feds the department would have to pay for an entire time period up front, and that might be a lot for a small department.

          I know where I used to work, service basically did just lapse when people were gone.

        2. JAM*

          That’s how we handled it. We picked up a temp for 12 weeks when someone broke their leg and paid from maintenance costs and then shifted maintenance costs to our forfeiture funds, elections gets grants for elections and swings the costs that way, collectors hires how many people they need for the regular session and then uses the extra funds to cover the cost for their temps, and so on. The temps may have enough work to keep them going year round but they aren’t promised any commitment and they have a 10 day minimum layoff between jobs (depending on the length of the assignment) so we weren’t given benefits but not everyone wanted benefits for the temp work.

          I can tell you my office paid about $6000 for our temp and we actually saved $8000 in our budgeted overtime that year since we didn’t have to push ourselves like crazy.

        3. HR Wannabe*

          One other thing to keep in mind with government is whether these employees or any other group is covered by a collective bargining unit. Hell hath no fury when a part time/no benefits employee brought into a union shop. The manager who suggests or tries it basically just committed career suicide at that point.

        4. RMRIC0*

          It seemed like in this case it was people using the program unpredictably and intermittently, so while you could get a temp in for the receptionist/admin it doesn’t make as much sense to have a temp in for the other guy because it’s not feasible to train someone for just three days of work and there might not be enough notice to get someone vaguely qualified.

    2. Cucumberzucchini*

      If FMLA is unpaid time off, wouldn’t they be saving money with all these absences accruing enough to hire some temps occasionally?

      1. fposte*

        FMLA doesn’t come with payment, but that doesn’t mean it’s unpaid time off; employees can be required to use their paid time off (including short-term disability, if that applies) and only take days unpaid when that’s exhausted.

        And it sounds like the OP’s unit is like mine, where the skillset isn’t something you can get from a temp agency anyway. (I also don’t think we’d be allowed to hire temps at my state university, but that could be union stuff, too.)

      2. HR Wannabe*

        Possible, but you’re increasing your HR/Leave compliance labor AND possibly getting on DOL’s radar.

  10. UK HR bod*

    I wonder, at what point can you dismiss someone for repeated absence of this type in the US? In the UK, we’d (hopefully!) manage it compassionately, try to make reasonable adjustments, get occupational health reports, but ultimately, even if the person was considered disabled under the Equalities Act, we could dismiss. Clearly, there’s a higher standard to meet in that you’d (probably, not always) allow extra time off if that was medically indicated, you’d consider part-time / flexible working, other options under the guidance of occupational health, but ultimately someone is employed to do that job, and if they can’t do it consistently then we may have to part ways.

    1. sunny-dee*

      There are two policies. ADA is for people with long term or permanent disabilities, and it can be really difficult to fire someone then. It can be done, you just have to build up a good case that the level of accommodation required is unreasonable for your company.

      FMLA is the Family and Medical Leave Act, and that is to allow up to 3 months of unpaid leave for when you or a cohabitating family member has a certified and covered medical condition. That can be to take time off for treatments or recovery, for hospitalization, or for flare-ups — the reason does not matter.

      But not everything is covered. It has to be chronic. Like, dialysis would be covered. Care after surgery is covered. Care after pregnancy is covered. Something like the flu or strep is not covered, and in most cases something like a broken leg wouldn’t be covered. That’s why they’re talking about certification and recertification. You have to have a certified condition and then it has to persist.

      1. fposte*

        I think “chronic” is a misleading word there, though. It covers chronic conditions, but the condition doesn’t have to be chronic. It has to be serious–hospitalization is the big one, but there’s also three days’ incapacitation requiring medical care for a “serious medical condition,” the terms of which have been getting hashed out over the years (no, flu doesn’t count, etc.).

        So if you were hospitalized for your broken leg, it’s FMLA-eligible even if you didn’t have surgery.

      2. UK HR bod*

        Thanks, that’s really helpful. I’d read the original post and response as though nothing could be done because the individual was covered by the FMLA,

    2. fposte*

      For FMLA, you can fire someone the moment they’ve exceeded their FMLA leave, so anything over twelve weeks; you can also fire them for failing to deliver certification within the required amount of time even if they’re under twelve weeks, or being absent for longer than certified (presuming again that subsequent certification isn’t given).

      And you don’t get FMLA until you’ve worked there for a year and even then it doesn’t apply everywhere or to everybody, so if there’s no FMLA you can fire them for absence whenever you want as long as you’re not being illegally discriminatory.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      What typically happens in the private sector – where employees for the most part are “at will”

      Joe requests FMLA – say, three weeks. And it’s justified.
      Company agrees to Joe’s request. He goes out on FMLA (take care of an ill child, parental care, whatever).
      Joe returns to work three weeks later.
      Two weeks after Joe returns, he’s called into the office and is told his services are no longer needed.

      If you work for a city/state/government agency, or have a union-grievance procedure in place, the above scenario doesn’t happen. But if you don’t – even though, under the law you have the right to it, it can be a dangerous thing to request it.

  11. OP*

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks to Alison for answering my letter and everyone for their helpful comments. To address some of the issues people raised above:
    *Temps or additional staff are not an option for us because of budget constraints and also due to the nature of our work. It’s very specialized so it’s not just a matter of getting a temp admin. The person would have to be trained in who to direct specific inquiries to, what issues we handle, and who to refer clients to if we can’t help them, etc. (I can’t go into tons of detail for fear of outing my workplace.) It’s not a situation where we could call another county dept. and have them send someone to cover for the same reasons.
    *We do have a shared calendar where we track scheduled time off, the problems is that their absences are unpredictable. We don’t know till they call in that day. To further complicate matters, Cersei is often late on the days she is here for a variety of reasons-overslept, car trouble, etc. I know is some offices this isn’t important but we are open to the public so we need staff coverage during all our open hours. For some of us, it’s at that “bitch eating crackers” level in regards to Cersei.
    I do have an update. A week or so after I sent the letter, a conflict occurred between Cersei and another coworker, Sansa. Sansa complained to the boss and myself about it. I was involved since it had to do with a how a specific client request was handled. When my boss and I discussed it, she asked me if I thought it was just a miscommunication, or if we needed a change in procedure. I used that as an opportunity to broach the subject. I explained that while we understood that there were health issues at play, the rest of the staff was feeling burnt out and I felt that tension contributed to the issue between Cersei and Sansa. She responded well and assured me that she had to balance the right and needs of all her employees but she understood what I was saying and would look into what she could do to help us.
    Since then, we’ve worked out a better schedule for covering the phones, but not a lot has changed. They are both out today, actually. I will say that I do feel better after having spoken her though. Sometimes acknowledging the elephant in the room is good even if you can’t do anything with the elephant!

    1. LBK*

      Do you think there’s hesitancy to discipline Cersei for her invalid absences because she has so many valid ones? I could see that if she gets a free pass on oversleeping, having car trouble, etc. because “Well she’s always out anyway” that could cause a lot of resentment in others. I think it also conveys a level of disregard for the strain put on her coworkers by her legitimate absences – it would probably be easier for them to be empathetic if she seemed like she understood that it’s a tough spot for her coworkers and therefore made every effort to be present and on time on the days she is in the office.

      1. Chriama*

        Agreed. Cersei’s attendence issues due to oversleeping and having car trouble are not protected. If you bring it up with her she might start covering that time with FMLA, but there’s a finite supply of that so either she uses it wisely or wastes it and has no more time — either way, the non-medical attendance issues are taken care of, right?

        1. MT*

          when you start talking about these one off events, you have to look at them without any influence from the time off that they missed do to fmla. So if they have one late a month and discipline, then you must discipline everyone who has one late a month. It doesn’t matter that they also missed 10 days that month due to fmla.

            1. LBK*

              For fair disciplinary action, I agree – but not for resentment to build in her coworkers, who aren’t bound by that kind of standard of fairness (or legality, if that comes into play here). I’d like to believe that I’d be able to exclude medical absences from my mental equation of “how annoying is is that Cersei overslept today,” but realistically I doubt I’d be able to keep it up long-term.

              Much like the obesity discussion today, it’s challenging because I obviously don’t want to blame someone for their disability and I want to be able to hold them to the same standard of attendance as everyone else (with the necessary absences excluded). But I think if I were in that position, I’d feel so guilty about dumping extra work on my coworkers even if there wasn’t anything I could do about it that I’d be trying to do whatever I could to make up for it on the days I could work – and not seeing that attitude in someone else would be frustrating to me.

              1. fposte*

                Oh, no argument that those are two different things. But if you’re the manager, you have to make sure they *stay* two different things, and you don’t start disciplining one employee for stuff everybody else does because you’re annoyed with her; it’s not only not a good plan, it’s genuinely illegal.

                I also think as a manager it’s good to address outright with the staff that you know things are tight in a small unit like this, but FMLA is protected leave, it’s to everybody’s benefit that it is, and we don’t ever hold it against our employees.

          1. anonanonanon*


            I wonder if the OP’s other coworkers would feel the same resentment towards non-FMLA coworkers who were consistently coming in late.

            1. Anna*

              I’m guessing yes. We see it with all sorts of other letters that consistent lateness is a giant pain in the butt for coworkers. But it would have a straight forward solution. Cersei is consistently coming in late or not it all due to (anything not FMLA related) therefore it’s a performance issue, therefore it’s easier to discipline.

            2. Ann O'Nemity*

              The increased resentment may also be happening because Cersei is the admin and therefore her absences require her co-workers to cover her position in ways that other employee absences do not.

              By the same token, I would argue that you may be able to hold an admin to a higher standard regarding absences than you would with other roles. For example, you’d hold Cersei to the same standards as other admins with the same role, but not necessarily to the same standards other employees in the same office but with different roles. It’s about the requirements of the specific job; FMLA has nothing to do with.

            3. AcademiaNut*

              I would say they would resent them, but not as much.

              For Cersei, the coworkers are working extra hard to cover her when she’s out for health related issues, and it’s significantly affecting their daily work life. To then be expected to work even harder to cover her because she can’t manage to get up on time on the days she is working is adding insult to injury.

            4. AnotherFed*

              I bet it would depend on how useful/helpful they are in general. If someone is 10 minutes late on occasion but otherwise is a good performer and a good sport about picking up their share or more of the extra work during one of the unplanned absences of other coworkers, people are probably not going to care about the minor lateness. If someone is as unreliable as the people on FMLA, they are probably going to be resented even more, because at least the coworkers on FMLA have a legitimate reason to be unexpectedly absent, but they’re probably going to be fired swiftly, too.

          2. The IT Manager*

            Not necessarily. Cersei as the lone admin who is supposed to answer the phones has a different impact than the other co-workers because one of them has to cover for her when she’s late or absent so she has a different impact when she’s late.

            But honestly it also sounds like she’s late more than once a month with a non-FMLA excuse.

    2. Cafe au Lait*

      It sounds like Cersai also has a performance issue on top of the FMLA. I have a feeling that if that were addressed (and your manager should address it!), then the hard feelings about FMLA would go away.

      I have a coworker that doesn’t want to pitch in except when its absolutely necessary. She uses the excuse “the task I’m doing can’t be interrupted,” or “if I help at the Circ desk I’ll loose my place in my task.” Until her performance evaluation a couple weeks ago, 9/10th of her mornings were filled with internet browsing and writing incredibly long emails to friends.

      While she hasn’t completely stopped internetting, she does help at the Circ desk more often and doesn’t complain when we ask for help. It’s cut the tension down.

    3. Sunshine Brite*

      Sounds like your manager needs to follow up with Cersei more.

      One thing that’s helping my overstretched area of my county is data. Your manager needs to track requests/work volumes/overall goals, etc. and take it up the ladder. Our supervisors took it to our manager who got a temp special assignment which was rolled into a system launch who compiled data over x amount of time about our area that she took to the next couple levels up. We just had a big hiring area and we still need more, but it should start to get better eventually even though there’s not the admin support in place to take on the extra load. Management’s even getting clever with how they handle one of the main problems with overwork in the dept and I’m about to be one of a number who will go on special assignment on this even more specialized unit within our specialized unit.

    4. TCO*

      I’m confused why Cersei’s nonmedical attendance issues aren’t being addressed (or perhaps they are, but it’s confidential). Perhaps your boss is afraid of wading into an ADA debate (assuming Cersei has a medical condition and isn’t using FMLA for a family member’s), but it’s entirely reasonable to expect all employees to be on time in a customer-facing job that requires a set schedule. I’m not an expert but I doubt lateness would be considered a reasonable accommodation in this case should Cersei request an ADA accommodation–and especially when her lateness isn’t medically related.

  12. Vito*

    Hi, I had a co-worker who was the FMLA from hell. She had a 4 day week (10 hour days) Third shift. IF she showed up all four days in a week we were lucky. My favorite excuse was that she had to call in because her HUSBAND was having PTSD because his pet CHICKEN died. Man I was in the mood for Popeye’s after hearing that.
    I have to say that employer deserved her considering how they treated the people who worked and never complained.

    1. De Minimis*

      We used to have one problem employee who had some kind of nonspecific FMLA issue. Any time she got annoyed at something, she’d leave and use FMLA. She was going without pay most of the time since her leave evaporated quickly. She was so difficult to be around people would usually be glad when she took off.

      I know the big one that people claimed at that workplace was migraines. I know they can be miserable to live with, but they are also the ideal thing to use if someone did want to “game the system” with FMLA.

      But the main reason all this went on is due to a miserable leave policy that encouraged people to abuse sick leave/FMLA, etc.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I’m betting there’s some reverse correlation between employee leave opportunities/employee job satisfaction and average FMLA time.

    2. TCO*

      Employees can’t just use FMLA for any time they’re sick (or a family member is sick) if it’s not related to whatever chronic condition they originally requested FMLA for. If your coworker requested FMLA to support her husband through a chronic mental-health crisis, I can see how the death of a pet would fit into that. If her FMLA was for some other issue, your manager was handling it poorly by allowing her to claim FMLA for the chicken death. (Or maybe she really did take some other kind of leave that day that she was entitled to use in addition to her FMLA).

      1. Vito*

        They TRIED to schedule her for MANDITORY overtime. Her comment to me was that she could barely make it in for the 4 days she was supposed to work. I heard today from one of my sources that she is no longer with the company I am sure that many people were singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” . Her big problemwas claiming to be overworked when she was sitting in back watching tv on her phone. This was a hotel with 2 front desks nd if I was 2working at the one she wasn’t as I would have day shift people ask me at 8am to call her because she had not finished her work and they needed to start working. They finally started asking the opening manger to call because she would be nasty to them.

      2. AnotherFed*

        They certainly can’t for legitimate FMLA use, but since we’re talking about people who are abusing the FMLA system (some pretty blatantly), I think it’s safe to say that they were either not giving this explanation to the manager or the manager was not willing/sufficiently informed to deal with the FMLA abuse.

        We’ve got one FMLA coworker whose unplanned absences are always Fridays and Mondays, never mid-week days. I’m not his manager and not privy to what his FMLA is for, but that just seems pretty suspicious to me! I think it’s a case where his performance is also pretty bad, so I’m far less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on possible legitimate reasons for that schedule. In contrast, we have another FMLA person who is awesome about communicating that he’s out to anyone who’d need to know or even had a 1-off meeting scheduled with him, puts up an out-of-office with POCs in case anything urgent comes up, and if he’s out for more than a day or two, always at least goes through his email and makes sure he’s not holding up other people’s work.

  13. Erin*

    I used to work in a four person office with one person recovering from cancer, one person with chrons disease, and one person with multiple multiple health issues, includong strokes. So I sympathize. Also, I am as we speak covering phones for our receptionist, unable to do my other work, so again I sympathize.

    I really can only see downsizing or eliminating projects as the best answer, since you made it clear temps or other staffing is not feasible.

    The only other thing I can think of is reducing the hours you’re available to the public, if your manager would be willing to consider that. Have open office hours from 9 to 2 instead of 9 to 5 to cut down on walk ins and maybe even also phone calls. Have a sign on the door with the hours and phone number. Have an outgoing message on the default voicemail saying the hours, emphasizing their call will be returned.

    Also, I know of someone who used to have her phone set straight to voicemail when she was busy, with the voicemail asking people to email her instead, if possible. Maaaybe an option during say the afternoon if you say get most phone calls in the morning.

    If interacting with the public is too high of a priority to cut down on public-facing hours then you’ll have to prioritize accordingly and cut back on other projects.

  14. LavaLamp*

    At least you know that your coworkers have FMLAs. My boss doesn’t want me to tell my team because it’s a hippa violation. I imagine I must look awful to my coworkers I didn’t tell anyway.

    1. fposte*

      Your boss is wrong. It’s not a HIPAA violation for you to tell your co-workers you have FMLA. It’s not even a HIPAA violation for you to tell your co-workers in great detail about your personal medical experiences (though it’s not a good idea). It’s also not even likely for it to be a HIPAA violation for your boss to tell people you’re on FMLA.

      In short, as I said, your boss is wrong.

    2. Observer*

      If your boss is claiming that you cannot share YOUR status due to HIPPA, he’s wrong. HE cannot, probably, but you are free to share whatever you want about your medical condition.

      1. LavaLamp*

        Yeah I know my boss is an idiot. I tried explaining in every single way possible that she’s wrong. At least she’s not trying to force me to make up overtime anymore.

        1. Anonsie*

          I would just tell them anyway and just dare him to show me where it says I can’t share my own medical information with whoever I want, but I’m also in a bad mood today so maybe don’t take advice from me.

      2. LBK*

        He probably can, actually – HIPPA only protects health information that you would otherwise be unable to learn if you weren’t directly involved in administering that person’s healthcare (including insurance-related issues). Even if your manager were your doctor, I think you could probably argue that you’d be required to disclose your medical info to your manager in order to request FMLA leave and therefore he’d be privy to that information regardless – and therefore could legally share it.

      3. Koko*

        HIPPA governs what information medical professionals are allowed to share with each other. It doesn’t affect speech by non-healthcare professionals.

        It’s generally good tact not to reveal others’ medical conditions for them, but there is no law that prevents an office busybody from repeating gossip.

  15. Junebug*

    Where I work, I am the person with a chronic illness. Things have gotten a lot better since I found a highly restrictive diet that reduces my symptoms, and my absences are now closer to 2 or 3 days a month, but at the height of my illness, I was regularly missing 2 or 3 days a week of work. We lost a client because we were taking too long to turn an order around.

    Luckily, I was a top performer and felt free to be frank about my situation with everyone, so I was not given a hard time. Which is a good thing, as we are a very small business, and would be unlikely to be subject to whatever the FMLA equivelent is in my country. We decided to hire a summer student to help pick up the slack. We initially thought it might be crowded in the work space when everyone was in, but we’ve gotten used to it, and she has fit in really well. She’ll be returning to school in September, so we’ll probably be looking again.

  16. ModernHypatia*

    Other things a manager could consider that might help:

    – Cross training, but also a schedule that rotates. (i.e. Mary covers if Cersei is out on Monday or Wednesday, Jon if Cersei is out Tuesday or Thursday, someone else covers Fridays and days one of the other two is out on vacation.) It can help the other people plan their time a lot better.

    – The manager can keep track of what other people give up to cover – not to punish the two people out, but to talk about long-term coverage plans and rearrangements of duties as things shift.

    – Are there things that can be simplified – processes or methods or whatever where time and energy can be freed up by investing some time in creating easier to use forms or better documentation for people with questions or whatever.

    – See if there are things that might reduce the amount of FMLA being taken (not in a ‘take less’ but in a ‘can we make the environment better for you so that you don’t need to take so much time off’.)

    I went through FMLA and ADA at a previous job. I started out really wanting to try and be at work as much as I could, but I hit a painfully solid wall with what they were willing to allow. (I was having constant migraine issues, after a move to a new work space, and we had spaces I knew worked much better for me available.)

    The more that they refused to budge, and the more that it was having a huge impact on even the most basic daily living stuff at home (I had several bad falls, because my balance was affected, I spent weeks at a time nauseous or dizzy, I had a lot of days in which I couldn’t safely make food that involved heat or anything sharper than a spoon…), the more I got to “You know, I am just going to take the time I need.” (and buckled down harder to job hunting.)

    If they’d been willing to do more or make attempts at things I’d identified would help, I would have kept trying to do my best to come into work, even when I felt iffy. And they would have gotten more and better work out of me than I could manage without the things they wouldn’t allow me to do.

    1. AnotherFed*

      The process efficiencies and improvements are huge – it’s absolutely hard when you’re already over-stretched, but if 5 hours dedicated to process improvement can save 6 minutes a person a day, that adds up to an hour a day for a 10 person office. If a lot of your work is public-facing, website improvements might be a big way to reduce in-person and phone traffic, especially if you can put together fairly detailed FAQ information, handle common requests through forms and automated processes, and route more traffic to email, where you can use template or mostly-canned responses for common problems.

Comments are closed.