I think my coworker has a learning disorder, employee is always too busy to sign paperwork, and more

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

1. Getting an employee to sign paperwork when she’s always too busy

I’m in HR and have an employee that gives me a very hard time when it comes to signing any new policies or procedures, evaluation forms, or notes. It is draining to constantly follow up with her regarding her signature, and she always says “I will do it later, I am so busy right now.” How should I work with this employee to be able to get her to sign the forms?

Well, it’s possible that she’s genuinely too busy with higher priorities, and you don’t want to appear to be valuing paperwork over actual work. That said, if stuff needs to be signed, it needs to be signed. I’d say this, “I understand, but we do need to get these signed. What’s the earliest I can get a short block of time on your calendar to deal with these? It should only take X minutes.” Or, “What’s a five-minute block you have open this week when I can bring this stuff by and get your signature?” Alternately, assuming you’re acting as HR here and you’re not her manager, you can ask her manager to make sure this gets done on your behalf.

But also, it sounds like there’s an unusual amount of stuff that needs to be signed. I’d take a look at whether you’re requiring signatures more often than you actually need to.

2. I think my coworker has a learning disorder

I recently had a third person join my team (in a very client-facing company) and I was put in charge of training/mentoring her. While she’s eager to do a good job and tries very hard, something is… off.

She seems to have difficulty remembering simple things and I find myself having to reexplain four or five times (and we’re talking SIMPLE things, like how to ship something via UPS). What concerns me is when she asks me for help with something, it’s usually followed up with a defensive “well, no one’s explained this to me before,” which is not only untrue but I also have follow-up emails/training session notes that clearly show we did go over it multiple times, and will often try to gently remind her of this/resend the emails to her, which goes over about as well as you think it does. Tasks I give her take much longer than they should and when I ask her if I can help with anything or answer any questions, she brushes me off. She seems easily distracted, often doodling when she should be taking notes or zoning out completely and unable to answer any questions I ask her.

Additionally, the way she interacts with her coworkers is very stilted and odd, to the point where I’ve had other coworkers come to me complaining about it (since I’m not her manager, I’ve just tried to deflect/end the conversation by offering up that maybe she’s just nervous since she’s only been here for four months). She doesn’t understand social cues (often bogarting conversations); she randomly jumps into a conversation between two people and begins talking about something totally off topic; if someone tries to explain/correct something she becomes very defensive… I could go on. If I had to guess, I’d say either adult ADD, being somewhere on the autism spectrum or maybe both.

As a mentor and not a manager, I hold no authority and therefore am hesitant to give her any feedback about these things. However, since we are a client-facing company, I’m worried about putting her in front of them. How in the world do I approach this issue? Should I set a meeting with our director and discuss it with him? Should I try to casually bring it up to her over coffee as a concerned coworker? I want her to be comfortable here and do a good job, but if she’s struggling with the simple stuff, what’s going to happen when the time comes for her to be in charge of a large, complicated project?

Talk to her manager. This one is beyond what you as a peer can address; it falls squarely on her manager’s plate to figure out how to handle. Have a conversation with her manager and explain what you’ve explained here. (I’d leave the speculating on specific diagnoses out of it, but include all the details you have in your second paragraph.) The manager need to step in and observe more closely, and then talk to the employee about the problems and figure out how to proceed.

3. Bizarre behavior from HR over new hire processing

I have recently started my first post-graduate position and have had what seem like unprofessional contacts with the HR department. I started the employment paperwork on schedule and just had to provide proof of citizenship to the HR representative requesting many sensitive documents (birth certificate, social security card, or passport). I emailed the HR representative multiple times over a week to schedule an appointment to bring in these documents (the HR department is located offsite) but never received a response.

When I went by their office during normal business hours, no one was present to collect my information. I finally was able to drop off my employment information to the payroll office. A few days later, I received an email from the HR office informing me I was late on my employment information and asking me to come in with my proof of citizenship and my marriage certificate. The representative also requested my social security information via email. I informed the HR representative that I had already given my social security number and employment data to the payroll office, and I felt uncomfortable providing the data via email. I also asked why my marriage certificate was required to start employment. The HR rep told me never mind and gave me a date and time to provide my citizenship information.

I went by the HR office at the appointed time and no one was there to collect my information. I had another long email exchange with HR and set up another appointment. I again came to the office right on schedule but ended up waiting 45 minutes to see the HR representative. When I came in, the HR rep was very skeptical of my documentation and made me show multiple proofs of citizenship. I ended up providing my birth certificate, passport, social security card, and driver’s license before the rep considered my application acceptable.

Additionally, the rep again asked for my marriage license. I asked why this was required, and was told that since I listed my wife as my next of kin, HR needed proof of the authenticity of our marriage. My wife and I are queer so I am somewhat concerned that homophobia may have been motivating some of the treatment I received. My wife is also non-white with an obviously non-white name, so I find myself wondering if that contributed to the extra citizenship paperwork I had to provide. At the end of the meeting, I was told that because I was late with my documents, I would not be receiving my first paycheck. I then emailed the payroll staff (who were very nice) and assured me that they would make sure I got paid on time as I had turned in all my paperwork before my start date.

Is this normal procedure for HR? If this behavior is out of line, can I bring this to someone’s attention? I cannot file a complaint with HR as there is only one person staffing the office. Should I be concerned about how I will be treated by the HR office in the future?

Whoa, no, none of this is normal. Some employers do ask for proof of marriage in order to add a spouse to a health care plan, but just to list her as next of kin? That shouldn’t be necessary. And your state law requires that you be paid on time; she can’t unilaterally decide to withhold your check.

How’s your rapport with your new manager? If it’s decent, I’d tell her what’s going on — as in, “I got the sense that Jane was skeptical of my documentation, as she kept asking for more and more, including multiple proofs of citizenship and a marriage certificate to prove my wife is really my next of kin. I almost got the sense that it was related to my wife’s obviously non-white name or — well, I don’t know what. She also said she was going to withhold my first paycheck because she hadn’t received my documents in time, but I’d tried to contact her multiple times during my first week to arrange to bring them to her and never received a response. Payroll tells me there’s no problem with getting me my check on time, but I’m a little uncertain about dealing with Jane in the future.”

If your manager is good, she’ll be concerned and escalate this for you.

(Apparently it’s Talk to Your Manager Day here.)

4. Publicly sharing the reason you’re taking time off

Is it right or legal for your boss to make you write out on a board the reason you’re requesting time off for everyone to see?

It’s legal. Whether it’s smart or not depends on exactly what’s being required. If you just have to write “vacation day” or “sick leave” or “doctor’s appointment,” that’s sufficiently vague that most people aren’t going to find that a privacy violation. If you have to write “colonoscopy,” then yes, that’s unreasonable.

5. Asking for a modified schedule to attend class — for something unrelated to my job

I have become quite unhappy with my career, and have decided that I want to go back to school to take some classes in something that doesn’t at all correlate with what I am working now (complete career change). The classes are after work and only two days a week for nine weeks. I will have to leave work a little early in order to make it to these classes. When I ask for a modified schedule (coming in earlier, taking a 30-minute lunch on those days), do I have to disclose exactly what I am doing or is there a way to let them know I need the time off without disclosing that I am taking classes and will likely leave after I finish?

Nothing requires you to disclose that, and you can be vague in making the request — something like, “I have an after-work commitment on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next nine weeks.” But it’s possible that your manager will ask what the commitment is — either out of friendliness or because knowing will help her judge how much weight to give the request. (If it’s an inconvenience and she’d rather say no, she might be more willing to suck up the inconvenience and say yes if it’s, say, a recurring medical appointment rather than a standing paintball game with friends.) So you’ll want to be prepared for what you’ll say if she asks.

{ 395 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m going to ask people not to attempt to diagnose the coworker in question #2, which I know is often easy to fall into in attempts to be helpful but which too often reinforces ideas that every person with traits X and Y must have condition Z. Thank you!

    1. afiendishthingy*

      Alison, I completely agree that the commentariat is in no way qualified to diagnose OP 2’s coworker. However I do just want to point out that, contrary to your headline neither of the disorders OP mentions are learning disorders. They’re neurological disorders that often but not always occur in people who also have comorbid learning disorder diagnoses. Sorry if I’m being too pedantic!

      1. Ad Astra*

        I noticed that too, but I’m glad Alison has pre-emptively asked us not to diagnose the employee. It can be tough to resist, especially for those of us who have experience with these disorders and might see a behavior or trait that we recognize.

      2. Not me*

        Yep, they are both developmental conditions. ADHD is often categorized as a learning disorder or behavior problem, and it can cause learning and behavior issues (I have it, I know), but it includes a developmental difference in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

      3. TheSnarkyB*

        I totally agree. Also agreed that it’s not appropriate for us to try and diagnose this person’s coworker. Alison, would you consider changing the title of the post so it’s less misleading and not (unintentionally) spreading misinformation about what constitutes a learning disorder? Perhaps something like “I think my coworker may have a concentration or social disorder”? I think that would be more correct.

        1. afiendishthingy*

          I actually think it would be best if the headline didn’t focus on suspected diagnoses at all, since it’s not the issue at hand and we don’t want to encourage armchair diagnoses. But, obviously AaM’s call :)

    2. Nadia*

      I was the coworker who was having difficulty remembering and understanding stuff when I started my current job. Even my boss was having second thoughts about his hiring decision. Luckily, I was able to tell something was off with me and had tests done that showed I had hypothyroidism which can affect a person’s cognitive ability. Things have turned around completely since I started taking meds for my condition and I am now a valued member!

      1. Hey, it worked!*

        This is the FIRST time in my life that I’ve felt like health anecdata in any comments section is helpful, so thanks for sharing! I have a pretty solid guess that my thyroid is whack – I didn’t know that could make me a space case! That would explain a lot. 30 days until health insurance!

        1. Heather*

          OT PSA: When you can finally get to a doctor (yay health insurance!) make sure they test free T3 and free T4 in addition to TSH. The free T3 test is pricey, so you might have to fight for it…but it’s worth it. TSH can be in normal range, even though your actual thyroid hormones aren’t, and if they won’t test the real hormones you could spend years being told you’re “just getting older” and “you just need to eat less and exercise more.”

          Come to think of it, this actually is kind of work-related, since muscle pain, moodiness, brain fog & all the other lovely symptoms make it really hard to keep up a good performance in the office.

          Good luck!!

          1. Terra*

            Since I’ve been through this I’d also talk to your doctor about being tested for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While Hashimoto’s can cause hypothyroidism it tends to by cyclical so you can have normal or high thyroid tests while having it. The recommendations and treatment can also be slightly different for Hashimoto’s versus hypothyroidism so it’s probably worth checking out for that alone. Most likely a diagnosis will require a blood test for TPO antibodies.

          2. Observer*

            Also, make sure your doctor is aware of the actual norms for TSH, as well as the fact that in many cases “normal” TSH is not. (Anything over 4.5 is definitely off, and there is a lot of research that says that even that’s too high.)

          3. Anx*

            I’ve been diagnosed with Anxiety and depression, which I’ve had I guess for a really long time (15 years), but I’ve rarely felt actually anxious or depressed. I’ve been hesitate to start the drugs I was prescribed (my Dr. knows I was not really interested in them), and I think at the base of that resistance is that I feel like hypothryoidism was rule out too quickly, while other things were never considered. A recent comment, and this one, have me ready to ask about hypothyroid again when it’s possible. I wish they did that test when I was still well-insured.

            My TSH is pretty borderline, and I had a lot of fertility loss symptoms, which may just be getting older (but that was a hard pill to swallow at 26)

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              If you’re in a country where it’s not crazy-expensive, see if you can see an endocrinology specialist, because the “normal” range for TSH is relatively big, and specialists go on tons more than just TSH.

          4. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            Not just thyroid, but depression and uncontrolled high blood pressure also cause the same sorts of symptoms.

          5. another IT manager*

            Also, if you’re female, you may feel cruddy and still fall into the “normal” range on all of these. My unmedicated numbers are in the bottom half of normal, and the difference (for me) between medicated and unmedicated is the difference between being functional and being … not.

        2. manybellsdown*

          Oh, yeah, I lost my thyroid to cancer 4 years ago. Oddly, the cancer hadn’t affected my hormone levels at all; they were squarely in the middle of normal. But after I had it out and my doctors were trying to find me the right dosage of replacement hormones? YIKES. I was all over the place. Too low and I have the attention span of a gnat, too high and I am a soggy, lethargic mess. Now I can tell if my dose isn’t working for me pretty quickly.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I was totally going to say this. Before mine was diagnosed and during times when my medication wasn’t quite right, you could have a conversation with me and then refer to it a week later and I wouldn’t remember it AT ALL. It was like, “We talked about this.” “No we didn’t!” “Yes we did!”

        I don’t think that misreading social cues and conversational non-sequiturs are part of that, however; I don’t remember seeing that anywhere.

        1. AnonInSC*

          Me too. And I was post-partum and nursing my baby (who woke up a few times a night until he was almost a year old), so I chalked up the exhaustion and memory problems to dealing with a new baby. It was more than that. But I didn’t go to the doctor until my joints were hurting – I thought I was developing an auto-immune disease.

    3. NickelandDime*

      +1 on the arm chair diagnoses. I’ve heard many stories of adults that have had issues for years though, and something happens, probably at work or multiple jobs, and they get some type of diagnosis. And then they start to learn coping mechanisms. I hope that if that’s the case, the person can get it figured out. It’s awful to go through life thinking you’re the problem, when it’s just that your brain operates differently. They might also be having some personal problems that are making them distracted, forgetful and a bit snippy. This deserves an update, because I bet many managers and coworkers see things like this all the time, and just don’t know how to address it properly.

      1. Father Ribs*

        That’s the rub…so many people go their whole life, with issues that have a serious effect on their life, and they can’t see it; everything has to fall down around their ears first.

        I wish someone had stuck their toe in the water and mentioned something in my formative years, when it would have had ten times the impact on improving my life then at this point.

        I’ve worked with people who obviously have some sort of issue as well, but you can’t just tell someone to go to a doctor and get checked out. It’s almost as if (in general…not talking about this specific incident or even just mental health but physical health, relationship health, etc…) we would rather watch people get seriously hurt rather than potentially hurt their feelings. It’s a tough spot to be in.

    4. Jon*

      Interesting “Social Q’s” criticism of this oft-quoted remark (“on the spectrum”):

      “…lately, every discussion about a difficult person seems to include this “on the spectrum” diagnosis.
      Let’s stop it. Most of us don’t know what it really means. And it’s callous to the millions of people who actually live with autism. The next time someone calls you to apologize, accept their apology or don’t. But no need to embroider the bad behavior in overdramatic terms.”

      1. Ad Astra*

        You see similar phenomena with any condition that has come to the attention of the general public somewhat recently: “Oh, I’m totally OCD about how my desk looks!” or “Ugh, my mom is so bipolar.” I’ve seen it with ADHD, depression, anxiety, IBS, Celiac Disease, low testosterone,

        It’s a weird trade-off. The price you pay for widespread awareness is a generally shallow or misguided understanding of the issue at hand.

        Ten years from now, we might be lamenting that every teenager with menstrual cramps is complaining of endometriosis. Kind of annoying, especially if either endometriosis or precision of language is important to you. But at least the girls and women who really do have symptoms of endometriosis will know to see a doctor.

    5. Observer*

      Thanks for bringing up the issue of not diagnosing. It’s disturbing enough when the OP, who is up close with this, seems to try to do this. For anyone in the commentariate, it’s really not useful.

    6. Likestopaintthings*

      I am a 59 year old woman who has started a new job…I find that I am not as sharp as I used to be which is very frustrating for me. my new job is not a struggle it is just that I am getting so much information thrown at me at such a fast pace that I get a little overwhelmed
      One of my younger co workers, who is taking part in some of my training asked me if I am having a hard time retaining the info she is giving me..I said that I wasn’t but the way I learn things is by actually doing it. I am still on my probationary period of 3 months and feel I am “getting it”…..But dread working with her…Another newbie who is younger then me feels the same as me, so I do feel better about this person, deciding that it is what it is…..my supervisor and director have said nothing to me so I guess so far so good. They have invested a lot of time in our training with a new computer program, which actually I thought would be the hardest part. I did fly through that. Thank God…..But I am having some anxiety about it all and am harder on myself than anyone else could be.
      I love my new position and I also hope that this person will not be my downfall. I keep my chin up. Sometimes it is hard to grasp all the info that is fed to you on a daily basis. I am finding a 50-60 year old brain is different then a 30-40 year old brain…. I have found also that there are people who enjoy the challenge of teaching and others who really dislike it….Thanks for reading this. I look daily on how to be the best I can be

  2. Eric*

    For #3, it is also illegal for your employer to require more documentation than is required by the I-9 for proof of identify/eligibility to work in the U.S.:

    Employers may not request more or different documents than are required to verify employment eligibility, reject reasonably genuine-looking documents, or specify certain documents over others with the purpose or intent of discriminating on the basis of citizenship status or national origin. U.S. citizens and all work authorized individuals are protected from document abuse.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      Yup, this is exactly what I was going to comment. The HR person’s actions are illegal and open the company up to penalties by federal law. An employer cannot request specific documents, or more documents, than required for completion of Section 2 of the I-9; rather, the employee must have the full options provided to them by law.

    2. Mookie*

      Thank you.

      Everything about #3 (apart from the OP and Alison themselves, obv — oh, and payroll, thank you payroll!) is making my blood boil.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too, and with the business about seeing if the marriage certificate is legit, I’m thinking they either think the OP’s wife is illegal, have a problem with it being a same-sex marriage, or both.

        1. Anonathon*

          Yeah, I think you might be right. I’m also in a same-sex marriage and the process for making my wife my emergency contact was … writing her name on the emergency contact list. (Plus I have co-workers who list close friends or roommates. You don’t even need to related.) I’m also pretty sure that I was able to be the life insurance beneficiary at her job before we even got married. This HR person is whack.

          1. Cactus*

            Yeah, at one of my old jobs, I listed my sister as my life insurance beneficiary. I definitely didn’t need to bring in whatever kind of paperwork would show that we are, indeed, sisters, so I’m not sure why a marriage certificate was needed in this case.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Totally she’s racist and homophobic it appears so someone at the top needs to know ASAP. Hopefully her manager is not close with this lady, though, otherwise it may not go anywhere.

        3. Treena*

          I wonder if it’s a misinterpretation (due to major bigotry) of how responsible HR is for enforcing some laws. In CA for example, your (at least work-provided) life insurance beneficiary cannot be anyone but your legal spouse (assuming you have one) without their signature consenting to not receive those benefits. I wonder if HR lady was thinking “I better make sure she’s not taking benefits away from a ‘real’ spouse!” Still super bigoted, esp since it’s not necessary (if OP dies the insurance company sorts out the lack of signature and benefits automatically go to the spouse).

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          What I don’t get is why it would matter anyway, even if the wife WAS illegal?

          Homophobia, though…

    3. The Zone Of Avoidance*

      It is very difficult to read #3 as anything but an egregious abuse of authority by the HR person. I’m usually a “can’t we all just get along?” kind of guy, but in this case, I hope that OP3 manages to effect a major and long-lasting Attitude Adjustment upon the HR person.

      Re the proof of marriage: for any monies that are payable at death of the employee (notably insurance and savings / retirement plans), my company has things ‘streamlined’ for employee’s spouse and children. Try to make anyone else a beneficiary – that exotic dancer down at The Blue Room, for instance – and they require a ton of documentation (for what I will agree are good and obvious reasons). I realize it’s high and on the outside, but I wonder if this HR dept is still tied up using older software / processes that don’t cope well with gay marriage? Prejudice aside, I can see this being the kind of thing that a smallish company might push off fixing until they *had* to fix it.

      Even if there is some truth to my speculation, that doesn’t forgive the HR person’s petty and abusive behavior.

      1. RMRIC0*

        I’d be more inclined to believe a software problem (like you have to check a certain box, but they can’t because the software was designed by someone from the 1950s, who fell forward through time?) if it wasn’t for all the other ridiculous issues.

        1. Judy*

          I thought part of the protections that marriage gave you under the law was rights to certain employment benefits, like retirement plans under the ERISA. Everywhere I’ve worked, as I’ve signed up for retirement plans and life insurance, I’ve had to either check “not married” or show the marriage license and sign that I understood that under law I couldn’t have a non-spousal beneficiary unless I submitted a notarized form signed by my spouse.

          1. Kyrielle*

            I’ve had to acknowledge the law and all that, but I’ve never had to show a marriage certificate – just state I was married, give his name, and then I can’t assign benefits to anyone but him without having him sign a form, as you note.

            1. Serin*

              My employer required evidence of marriage, but accepted a tax return with “Married Filing Jointly” checked.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              I’m not sure I’ve even seen my marriage license since we got married, 30 years ago. We’ve never had to provide it for insurance coverage, at multiple jobs.

          2. Observer*

            Right. And that’s why this might make sense if the HR person had acted competently on the rest of the issues. But failing to show up to an appointment without explanation or acknowledgment, asking for extra documentation of right to work, threatening to withhold a paycheck each count as a serious problem in its own right and together show a pattern of egregious misbehavior. Whether it’s prejudice, incompetence or general abuse of power is not clear at all. But, it doesn’t really make a difference. Too many things are wrong here.

        2. Bostonian*

          Yeah, if it were a software issue but HR were otherwise competent then the HR rep would probably apologize and explain the reason for the extra hassle. This HR rep just sounds nuts.

          This is so weird, in fact, that I’d keep an eye on your credit report and otherwise be alert for identity theft.

    4. OP#3*

      Hi, I’m OP#3. It’s great to know I can’t be asked for additional documentation. I’ll keep this in mind for a future which hopefully won’t involve so much of a hassle from HR. I don’t have a direct manager who handles administrative matters, but I think I’m going to take this to the general office manager. The situation is especially frustrating because I already completed an extensive background check for this job so HR really should have been a formality!

      1. BG*

        OP3 – When you completed your I-9, you should also have been given a list of all the acceptable documents for identification, lists A, B, and C. If you choose from List A, you do not need to provide any other forms of identification. You provided your Passport, a List A document, so you did not need to provide anything else unless the passport is expired.

        Even though you completed a background check, you do still need to complete an I-9 and provide identification to show that you are authorized to work in the US. So, it’s a not formality but a necessity to the company to ensure they are not employing anyone not authorized to work in the US.

      2. BRR*

        In addition to the I9 (also BG is correct about that), the HR rep might have also been acting illegally in regards to your paycheck depending on how long your state requires you to be paid following the days worked.

      3. Erin*

        If you’re comfortable, maybe even be prepared to show your manager the above link. You can take Alison’s often-given advice on assuming the other person simply made a mistake and is not acting maliciously. Something like, “I wanted to bring something to your attention – (explain what you explained here) – and I’m sure Jane doesn’t realize it, but this is actually quite serious from what I’ve read here…”

      4. JGray*

        I am so sorry that you had to deal with a bad HR person. I think from this point on just try to work directly with the general office manager. I am the office manager/HR person at my office and it doesn’t have to be like this when it comes to new hire paperwork. I have also never had to provide proof of my marriage for anything at work even health or life insurance. There is something seriously wrong with this HR person if she thinks that it is okay to require information from one employee but not all of them regardless of whether the person is in a same sex marriage or not. It doesn’t matter-one of the basic rules in HR is to treat all employees that are the same type the same (i.e treat all full time employees the same).

    5. Karowen*

      This is what I was coming to say. They can only require you to provide the bare minimum and asking for more is a serious issue.

    6. Ad Astra*

      I was thinking the same thing. In the past, I’ve had employers give me grief about bringing in my passport instead of a birth certificate. In my case, I’m usually giving my documents to some hiring manager who’s not well versed in the process, and firmly stating that my documents meet the standard usually gets me through. But I’m pretty sure the law exists specifically to protect people from discrimination, so it’s worth taking seriously in the future.

      1. TCO*

        Interesting–I’ve had multiple employers comment that they prefer passports for I-9s because they’re the easiest to process. Regardless, no one should be giving an employee grief about what documents they present, as long as they meet the standard.

      2. neverjaunty*

        ….but it says right on the instructions to the form what documents are acceptable! What is WRONG with some people.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I think something about the “OR” and the “AND” on the sheet confuses them? I also got the feeling that most new hires at these jobs provided birth certificates because they didn’t have passports. I’ve worked primarily with white people from Texas and the Midwest, and a surprising number of them had never been outside the U.S. So passports are sort of a “fancy” thing to have in the circles I run in.

      3. Monodon monoceros*

        This is interesting because I know I’ve used my passport in the past, but also been asked for my birth certificate. Then I get hassled because it is a “Certificate of Birth Abroad” because I was born on a military base overseas (father in the military, both parents US Citizens). So even though there should be no question of my citizenship, it’s always a hassle. Next time I’ll be sure to point out that the passport is all they should need, and hopefully avoid the birth certificate mess.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I’ve run into that too! (Same situation as you–military base overseas.) I’ve had a bunch of conversations (never with my employer, but with, e.g., the DMV or similar) that go like:

          Them: So you put US citizen on the form but this says you’re German.
          Me: No, it says I’m an American citizen who was born in Germany.
          Them: But it says Augsburg, Germany.
          Me: Yes, but see at the top, where it says “Certificate of the Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States”? And it’s signed by someone at the US embassy? This is an American birth certificate. I was just born on a US army base that happened to be in Germany.
          Them: But… it says you were born in Germany? So did you get naturalized later, or what?
          Me: ARGH.

          I didn’t honestly think that army brats were so rare that it would be a confounding issue so often, but apparently it is. (I’m aware that I have it much easier than people who were not given American citizenship at birth who have to navigate these things, but it’s still annoying!)

          1. Monodon monoceros*

            I’m sorry you’ve dealt with this, too, but I’m glad to hear it’s not just me! I was most surprised when this happened at a part-time job I had in college, near Washington DC. Of all places, you’d think people would have encountered military/state department brats before, or at least understand the concept.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Wow, yes! I mean, military/state department kids aren’t even that rare overall (that’s what always gets me–yeah, it’s unusual, but I’m not exactly a magical purple unicorn; there are thousands of military brats out there), but I’d think especially not in DC.

          2. manybellsdown*

            My husband’s had this same problem, as he was born to American missionaries in Guatemala. During the 1976 earthquake. So there are no records from Guatemala, obviously. He only managed to get that Certificate of Birth Abroad about 5 years ago, after multiple attempts.

            1. manybellsdown*

              Ooops hit post too soon. I was going to say, you could tell them you’re just like John McCain. He was born on a base in Panama and still qualified to be President!

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Hah, I remember when I was a kid, the ‘army brats born overseas’ and the ‘army brats born on US bases’ would have fierce debates about whether those of us born abroad were eligible to be president. I didn’t get a definitive answer on that until the 2008 elections!

          3. simonthegrey*

            This. My dad was born in Puerto Rico to a military family. His birth certificate is in Spanish. People will say they need proof of naturalization. Nope, he is an American citizen, but the birth certificate in another language still throws them.

    7. Anna*

      Wow. OP #3’s situation was already pretty clearly discrimination of some sort, but that it’s illegal puts it in to a whole new light. You’d think an HR rep would be savvy to that.

  3. Lou*

    #2 Sounds like me in my first permanent job. About five years down the line I think my memory skills have improved. I used to not ask, because I didn’t want to bother people so would get things wrong or misremember them and get told off or the eye roll. Think this is a defence mechanism from childhood. I write things down a lot now.

    I’ve learnt through the years how to be ‘normal’ I guess and put on a front around people. Lots of co workers in my first permanent job would mention about how I was stilted or odd in conversation to my manager at the time. That I didn’t talk much if at all. I put it down myself to having little social awareness and skills and being anxiety ridden paranoia and unsure of how to navigate conversations from school tbh. I think most of my early problems in my work stem from bullying and being made fun of in my later years of school. Now I can fake conversation and happiness like everyone else lol.

    1. LAI*

      #2 sounds a bit like a new employee that I helped train years ago. Pretty socially awkward, and the first few days of training went really terribly. It seemed like she was not understanding or remembering anything. I asked her to start writing things down and even then, she still couldn’t remember or find the information in her own notes. Our supervisor talked to her and I think there might have been some sleep-related health issues at play. She did eventually get better but her learning curve was much, much longer than anyone else in that role. I left after a year, at which point she was still barely functional at her job, but she’s still there several years later so I guess things worked out.

      1. ThatCat*

        Actually, #2 sounds a lot like the employee I tried to train last year. He had been with the company a for many years, and I later found that he had been given less and less responsibility as time went by in his previous position because of an inability to handle some of his original responsibilities. My big-hearted supervisor decided to give him “one last chance with the company” and took him onto our team. He repeatedly denied having been told things even when mentored extensively in one-on-one sessions.

        He also wanted a formal procedure written out for every little thing. It’s a writing position, so that’s is literally not possible. Guidelines, yes, but there’s no procedure for how you think to write. The more I tried to escalate the situation to my supervisor, the more impatient with me she got about the whole thing. She finally started over training him herself, saying that unless she told him something, it didn’t count, even though he had been patiently mentored on our processes and procedures for over 8 months at that point.

        The whole thing led to really low morale both for feeling like our time spent mentoring was literally being disregarded as having no value and for feeling like whatever untouchable thing there was about this employee was valued more than the rest of the team. After over a year of non-performance and not getting basic concepts and procedures no matter how many times he was trained, he was transferred to another of our supervisor’s teams , and we’re cleaning up the trail of messes he left behind.

        I think for us, it would have been helpful to have had a way to escalate his performance issue over our unresponsive supervisor’s head. If OP2 is still reading, my advice is to not let it drag on too long before you speak to your supervisor so that you can strategize how to approach the situation before it causes work to pile up.

        1. Anonicorn*

          This sounds exactly like the situation I have with another coworker. Seriously, everything from the writing position to the fact that the coworker seems more valued. I hate to see that so many people have to deal with situations like this.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I’ve had this problem in the past–also with a writing position. It was someone who wanted clear, concrete rules for every possible situation, but that just isn’t feasible when you’re producing a large quantity of technical documentation. We had a pretty thorough style guide, and branding guidelines, and even guidelines for the ‘tone’ of various documents (clear and impersonal for API references, friendly and light for ‘tips and tricks’ blog posts, etc.), but anything other than “this list of words is friendly and light, this other list of words is clear and impersonal” was too fuzzy for her to grasp–and yet making comprehensive lists of that kind of thing just wasn’t feasible. (On top of that, she was really uncomfortable writing documentation for unfinished software–again, because there weren’t enough ‘rules,’ it was too ‘up in the air,’ etc.–which is kind of a problem when the documentation has to go out with the product.)

          Fortunately, the manager eventually realized that having a writer who couldn’t use her best judgment when it came to writing tone at all wasn’t tenable, and she was gone in fairly short order. But yeah, it was incredibly stressful to have someone on the team who wanted rules for things that are inherently somewhat subjective.

    2. Ad Astra*

      These posts make me so paranoid because I do seem to have memory problems (I’ll remember inconsequential things in great detail but forget the overall point of an important conversation), I often have to be taught something several times before it sticks, and I tend to monopolize conversations if I’m not careful.

      Things that help me:
      1. Taking lots of notes (my notes have improved over time)
      2. Asking questions like “So, you want me to do [task] first and then [process] second?” to make sure I’m understanding the directions. Also, things like: What’s our ultimate goal here? Who’s our audience? When do you need this done? How should I prioritize this against [project]? So you’re saying you want [repeat whatever boss said]? What are our next steps?
      3. Using step-by-step directions if they’re provided for me, or creating my own cheat sheets
      4. Communicating in writing whenever possible (mostly because I’m a linguistic learner, but partly because I can then go back to saved emails/convos for reference)
      5. To-do lists, complete with due dates and meeting times, which I prepare at the end of each day for the next day
      6. ADHD medicine (no idea if it will help this employee since we don’t know if she has ADHD, but it makes a world of difference for me)

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I use all the help steps that you list just to help me with my personality and natural tendencies. I don’t think that there’s anything cognitively wrong with me, but I tend to be more abstract in my thinking, comfortable with a high degree of ambiguity, and feelings-oriented, which I’ve noticed can be fairly irritating to naturally-practical, concrete-thinking people. So I’ve adopted some coping mechanisms that mimic practicality, even though I’d rather be operating more intuitively.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I went to a fantastic workplace session on thinking/personality type and it really, really helped me understand why people get frustrated with me in meetings even when I’ve solved the problem.

          It helped me realize that for some of my coworkers the process was just as important as the answer, for others it was the coming together as a group to work out the answer, etc.

          It really, really helped me!

      2. Anna*

        I used to not really have memory issues. I took notes in class, but I never really needed to write stuff down. As I have gracefully aged, I have learned better to be safe than sorry. It’s probable I’ll remember it, but there have been enough times that I didn’t that now I write it down and if it’s a meeting or appointment, put it in my calendar.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          This hit me like a ton of bricks in the last year.

          I can still remember all the lyrics to “Ice, Ice Baby,” but what I agreed to a meeting two days ago is gone.

          Everything goes in my calendar and I’ve started taking extensive notes.

      3. Serin*

        Most trainers and bosses should be more sympathetic to people who show some awareness of their difficulties, too. “My experience has been that I need to go over a process two or three times to fully understand it” is very different from “Nobody ever told me that!”

    3. INTP*

      This was also me early on, though I actually do have ADHD. At the time I didn’t know it, and assumed no one could just remember an entire process from it being explained to them one time (we have issues with taking in multiple directions at once).

      What I’ve learned is that I need written instructions for things to study on my own or refer to the next time I need to do it. If you have the time, OP, creating short written procedures may help her, or encouraging her to take notes (and give her the time to write things down). (I’m not trying to diagnose her here, just throwing out a possible solution that helped me with the same issue.)

  4. BookCocoon*

    #2, are you me? I have spent the past four months training my replacement, and everything goes in one ear and out the other. Yesterday I discovered she has not been doing a weekly process I trained her on months ago because “we haven’t covered that yet.” (She nearly started crying after I insisted we had covered it and forwarded her the follow-up e-mail I’d sent her after I trained her.) I have brought this to her supervisor’s attention, but he is never around so cannot witness anything for himself. His solution so far has been to make her take an online course on Excel. Because that will fix all the problems.

    No suggestions, just sympathy.

    1. Beth Anne*

      The thing I find interesting in all these cases is you guys have sent the people you are training emails with the procedures…I don’t get whey they don’t search the emails.

      1. Liane*

        Hey some of us don’t have to be told 10,000 times how to do simple stuff, don’t cry when reminded about something, don’t have coworkers complaining we are “off” when we talk and even use email A LOT – but still had no idea until reading your post that it was searchable. : ) So now I will go find out how.
        (True story: I do a lot of chatting via Skpye with friends, both voice & IM, and have done so for years. Only in the last few months did someone in my game group – who has both a computer programming degree and internship, btw – find out accidentally that Skype had a search function for IMs.)

          1. Merry and Bright*

            You could filter them by date order and look at the view pane to see the contents, especially if you aren’t sure about names or key words to search by.

            1. LCL*

              What works for me is sorting by sender. I work in a large govt business so different people do different things. If it was about motorcycles I know the email must have been from Arya, if was about fast cars I know it must have been from Sansa, etc.
              One caution-corporate email systems delete emails after X days, because resources aren’t infinite. IT may be able to find them from the backups, but average user can’t. So make sure to save those you want to keep.

              1. Kyrielle*

                Depends on the corporation – we were allowed 1 GB each on the server at $LastJob and then we just couldn’t send/receive email until we cleared it. And I used to routinely clear it to archive files on my disk…I had the better part of a decade of emails I could search that way. (I did not, of course, save emails like ‘donuts in the break room!’ unless I royally screwed up…there is no way I need to know that the next week, never mind four years later.)

        1. Not me*

          Searching your inbox is a life-changer!

          Has anyone ever called to ask if you received their email, which you might have seen sometime in the last two weeks, but really, who knows? Now you can search for their name or a phrase and never frantically scroll and scan and stall again.

          1. Kyrielle*

            At $LastJob I routinely used it when someone brought up “we need to do X” and X made my mind go ‘uh, I have heard that before…somewhere…somewhen.’

            I’d pile X or a related term or a few guessed terms (depending on how general X was – sometimes it was a little too general!) into email search and usually (not always, but 80-90% of the time) turn up the old exchange, which might have reasons why X would be a problem, or maybe things we needed to take into account when handling X, or on one memorable occasion an email I sent when I found out a client had got the system to support X as-was by doing Y thing. That was really nice because we just did it again to support X for the new client that wanted it!

          2. The Other CrazyCatLady*

            I still have to frantically scroll and scan. =/ The indexing thing in my version of Outlook is broken, so I can’t use the search function. IT has been completely unable to fix it.

      2. snuck*

        I’m wondering if there’s too many emails, too many instructions, too much going on?

        Is there a simple process chart that exists (or can one be created) that shows the basic steps of the job, and some checklists or rosters or charts that can be made that show the more regular tasks and any specific detail that’s needed?

        Why is there so much training and complexity in this role, where are the process and systems documents?

        Having stuff explained in an email, if every day you get fifty or more emails, becomes pointless when it’s piecemeal and little chunks of a big picture that’s not being shared in an obvious manner. Obvious to the receiver, not the sender.

        While there’s a good chance there IS something different about this person (if many others haven’t had the same issues) there’s also a chance that the way it’s being communicated isn’t helping. If there’s no documentation what about approaching your manager and saying “Look, Jane is finding this hard, and without documentation we’ve been left having to do this piecemeal by email. Can I knock up some quick over view documents and share them with her and see if that helps? If it doesn’t make a difference what do you think we should do next?” That way you are giving them a helpful solution and it gives your manager a chance to talk it through with you and maybe Jane, and the bonus is those documents means that future Jane’s will have a quicker time of it too.

          1. snuck*

            Sure but if there’s many small tasks that all have different instructions… sometimes even postal work gets complicated “The daily mail gets sorted into sizes and then the franking of the envelopes is costed according to this chart here and those costs are recorded in this way against each cost centre/work team” etc isn’t that simple to someone who has never done it. Throw in parcels and multiple couriers and different priorities for different senders and it could be harder. Why not just document it lightly for anyone who needs to know?

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          When I took over a team at my previous job, I found *a lot* of these piecemeal instructions. Some were in word docs and some were emails that were just forward to new team members.

          Putting together one complete manual that took people from start to finish on all their duties was incredibly helpful.

        2. Althea*

          It’s hard to imagine that’s the problem here. A typical interaction from a newly trained employee with very scattered instructions might be, “Hi Jane, I know we went over how to ship packages by UPS, but I didn’t write down/get down all the steps. Could you go over it with me one more time?” Then, upon being forwarded the email with the steps, “Thank you! I didn’t find that email.” If being trained on a LOT of procedures, I could see forgetting that a few had even been gone over, but that would be a pretty small percentage…

          There is something bigger going on that the employee can’t even recall/denies being able to recall ever having been trained on most of the processes.

          1. AMT*

            Yes, I’m getting the sense that it’s a lack of general problem-solving skills rather than needing step-by-step instructions. My wife has an assistant like that. After four months on the job, he still manages to need ten times more help than her last assistant. She could write a step-by-step manual for every single task he does and he’d end up saying, “Where did I save my manual? How do I get to ‘Desktop’? How do you open a Word document? Now the text is too small. How did that happen?”

            1. The Other CrazyCatLady*

              I’ve trained several people like that. I can even imagine one of them saying those things. He was a bit… Zoolander-ish. “They’re IN the computer?” type of cluelessness.

            2. BookCocoon*

              Yes, that is exactly the case in my situation. I have had to go over with her several times how to save a file and find it again later, and she still struggles with that, so I spend an inordinate amount of time just doing remedial computing instruction.

          2. Jules*

            When I started at my current job, there was a huge amount of operational knowledge carried around in everyone’s heads. (Everything from how to send a fax through who was in charge of various projects)

            One of the first things I did was to create a Trello board with instructions for reference – and now my whole team knows that if they’re not sure how to do something, they should check the Trello board first, and only ask if the task isn’t on there or they can’t understand the instructions. It took a bit of time to set up (mostly me copying stuff from various emails) but it has proved invaluable as I onboard new team members…and now when I teach someone how to do something that isn’t on the board, I ask them to create the process on the board for future reference, which is a good way of checking how much of the instructions they’ve actually absorbed.

      3. INTP*

        Some people are remarkably un-resourceful. Not quite the same scenario, but when I was a TA, I posted our syllabus online to the course website, where they had to log in regularly, yet so many of the students would just NOT click on the “Syllabus” tab and look at it. One student, a third year, even said “Why can’t you just put something on the website that has all the test dates and due dates?” OMG I ALREADY DID MONTHS AGO. WE ALL LOOKED AT IT THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS.

        1. Vicki*

          Maybe make a second link that, instead of saying “syllabus” says “Test Dates and Due Dates.”

    2. felicia*

      Sounds exactly like someone who was hired recently at my company. Unfortunately we had to fire her after six weeks. We couldn’t have someone who couldn’t grasp the basics after that long, like a simple process that had to be done every day for example. She was also mildly rude to customers though I don’t think she realized because she was shocked when we told her that about three weeks in and we were getting complaints about her

    3. NicoleK*

      Yes x 1,000. New coworker will ask for documents and materials that were provided to her numerous times. She’ll deny not receiving materials that were given to her. She’ll take copious notes, not sure what she does with those notes, cause she’ll ask to be shown things again and again. You have my sympathy

  5. Conchita X*

    #3 is going to lead to some really really big problems. Your call to wait out or make a big stink of it now. Hopefully, it was not a typical occurrence.

  6. Isabel*

    Haven’t read comments in a few days, so I am sure I’m not the first to say this. But I’ve been thinking of this site all day because…

    Tropical Storm Wakeen!

      1. Academic Librarian*

        I KNOW!!! I was listening to radio and said to the husband- did you hear that ? Did they say Waken and then I realized he had no idea what I was talking about.

    1. Owl*

      My co-worker and I were talking how it’s going to rain for the next week (each looking at our own computers) and I heard him mutter something like “joe . . ah . . . quin?” and I was able to look over and say, “ah, Joaquin! You know, like Joaquin Phoenix.”

      1. Katie Pi*

        Thank you! I always wondered by the use of “Wakeen” on this site if it really was a name. I was always reading it as Way-keen. I feel enlightened.

    2. periwinkle*

      Luckily I was able to clamp down on the burst of laughter when I checked the weather forecast for the eastern US and saw the warnings about Tropical Storm Joaquin. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily explain to your non-AAM’er colleagues, especially if you were supposed to be paying attention to the meeting presentation… *looks innocent*

    3. The Crusher*

      Isn’t it funny how there’s a tropical storm Joe a Quinn at the same time there’s a tropical storm wakeen? That’s wild.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        I L’ed very much OL at that. I think they have totally different predicted trajectories. And personalities.

      2. eplawyer*

        hehehehehehe. Back when I was in middle school, our high school football team was in the state playoff championships. Huge Deal for a small town. They printed the player’s pictures with their names in the local paper. First time I saw one kid whose mother was my Sunday School teacher at the time, name spelled out. I said, I feel so bad for Ms. So and So, she has two kids to worry about playing, Seen and Shawn. My family laughed at me and explained that Seen (spelled Sean) was Shawn. I still pronounce it Seen in my head, so there.

    4. The IT Manager*

      One of my first thoughts, “We’re up to “W” already.”

      Yes, I can pretty much only think of AAM when the new discusses Hurricane Waken.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, I thought that too. It might not have been until they mentioned it was the 10th named storm that I remembered Wakeen starts with a J. But I thought of AAM immediately!

    5. Nikki T*

      Yes, I nearly tripped running to the TV when I heard about was is now Hurricane Joaquin! I also had to cover the phone to keep from laughing in my mother’s face when she called to warn me about Joaquin. (What? but Wakeen is so nice!)

      She wouldn’t have understood that I was thinking, so I’m glad I can hang out here with all of you :)

  7. Daisy*

    It concerns me more that she has forgotten she was trained on something more than she is forgetting how to do it. I feel like often when I am being trained on something I get confused by the sheer volume of information but I don’t think I have ever forgotten the lesson completely. I do occasionally have to go back and say I know we talked about X but can we review it again.

    Could you have her keep a notebook with notes so she can go back and follow the steps or even review it to see if it was something covered.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      It’s concerning that she’s forgetting things were covered, and even moreso that she’s getting defensive about it. It sounds like she’s also not picking up on cues (or possibly direct instructions?) to take notes. Personally I would find it helpful to have some good, clear step by step instructions for various shipping methods prominently posted in a logical spot (Like on the cabinet with the shipping materials). What about asking the new employee if she knows what methods of training would best fit her learning style? She sounds not too self-aware so she may not know, and regardless OP should be communicating the issues to the manager, but it’s worth a shot.

      1. Allison*

        Right, I know I’ve sometimes needed to be reminded of something, but I usually say “hey, I’m sure we went over this already, but I’m having trouble with X; I remember steps A, B, and C, but I’m a little fuzzy on D.” I acknowledge that I’m asking for a reminder.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s plausible. Not in the “mwa-ha-ha” kind of lying, but the panicked “OMG I really don’t think I know how to do this even though I’ve been told I’ll just claim I haven’t been told” way.

        I feel for this person, because she sounds like she’s struggling and fearful. But she’s not dealing well, and it sounds like there may be some long-ingrained deflecting behaviors that aren’t helping.

        1. Ad Astra*

          This totally sounds like panicked, defensive lying to me (and I’m a recovering serial offender).

          It’s also possible that the OP is using terminology interchangeably and the employee isn’t realizing that yes, she knows how to do this, but she didn’t recognize that task by a different name, or in a different context.

      2. BookCocoon*

        I wrote above that I have a very similar situation in my office, and I legitimately think she forgets that we have conversations. All the time. She was nearly in tears the other day when I told her we’d covered something already and she was insisting that we absolutely had never talked about it. She makes jokes about her mind being a sieve that are… too true to be funny.

        1. Schnauz*

          This is the exact reason we started a group IM amongst two of my coworkers and I. One of my coworkers will either not remember conversations or will remember them completely differently. Real life example: “Schnauz, why didn’t you finish process X last night?” “Um, because I didn’t know I needed to?” “Jane says she let you know she didn’t finish and you needed to over.” “Jane said “goodbye, have a good night”, we had ZERO words about me needing to finish her work.” “sigh”

          Of course, even with chat, Jane will say things like “You told me to wait on Y until your say so” – no, we said RIGHT HERE IN CHAT to do Y whenever X was done and you were ready. Or, she’ll just ignore chat. So we have to nudge her verbally, then we have to remind her to respond in chat so we have record. It hasn’t fixed things completely, but at least there is now some record to fall back on. Our manager is sympathetic (to a point), but some days it feels like stranger than fiction territory, so it’s nice to have something to show that we’re not making up how often she “misremembers” things.

    2. JGray*

      In my current job I got one day (one day) with the person I was replacing so it was a lot of information that we went over. I took notes the entire time to make sure that I would remember. By the end of the day when her & I were reviewing things she would ask me a question and I would forget the answer and then she would say “remember we went over that’. I could look back over my notes and remember that we had in fact talked about it. I am much better now but it could be that this person perhaps gets overwhelmed easily. I would make her take notes from now on so that she has something to refer back to because she might not remember that she has an email. Everyone learns different so sometimes it takes a while to figure out how you best learn. The coworker reaction is a bit much for a professional but again she could reach that when when overwhelmed and perhaps this is not the best job for her but you never know.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I once had an employee like this. I would train her on things and then each time that task came up, it was like totally new territory and I’d have to train her all over again; it was very frustrating. I routinely told my manager, who was also her manager, the issue she was having, but he just shrugged it off. She was really a sweet woman and wonderful with customers (part of her job was loan collections and she had a perfect balance of assertiveness and empathy), but it was so frustrating to have to spend so much time retraining. She didn’t have any other issues, though, which made me think it was a memory issue. Eventually she got a new manager and he terminated her pretty fast.

      1. simonthegrey*

        This reminds me of a woman I used to work with. This is not a diagnosis, of course. This woman was very sweet, very kind, and had actually worked in this establishment for some time before being transferred to the area where I was. Even though this woman was familiar with how the overall store was run, she couldn’t remember anything. She made frequent mistakes and did not remember being corrected, or the meetings held to go over her mistakes. Eventually, a couple of the managers reached out to her husband and told him something was really wrong. She was diagnosed with early onset dementia. It was incredibly sad. Memory problems are no joke.

    4. OhNo*

      I mean, it could be a problem matching up the name to the process (e.g.: the office calls it “UPS shipping”, but the employee only remembers it as “that thing you have to do on the weird online mailing website”), which is something I’ve always struggled with. But even if that’s the case, they should be able to look at the instructions and admit, “Oh, we have gone over this, I didn’t realize it was called X!”

      I’m with VictoriaHR in that I think it’s more likely that the employee is lying, possibly because they just aren’t confident in the process yet. But that’s an issue in and of itself, since it means they are forcing the blame onto someone else for “not showing them” rather than taking ownership of the problem.

  8. Beth Anne*

    I worked with some people like #1 and that is basically what we had to do was schedule time at lunch or schedule appointments (depending on what they were) for her to look over and sign paperwork.

    1. Michelle*

      When I need someone to sign a new policy (or whatever), I usually show up with the piece that needs to be signed, asked if they have read and understand it. If they say yes, I have them sign it then. If they say no, I leave it with them and tell them I will be back tomorrow to collect it.

      I realize people are busy, but as long as you have read and understand the new policy and have no questions, there really is no reason they can’t take 10 seconds to sign the form.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      We get email reminders at work. Then you go in and read/acknowledge the policy and click the button and you’re done. It’s really the only way to do it, as the company is huge and we have offices all over the place.

  9. Jenniy*

    Hubby has aspergers syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. The way you describe the social issues
    “Doesn’t understand social cues (often bogarting conversations); she randomly jumps into a conversation between two people and begins talking about something totally off topic”
    This is classic aspergers.
    Those with aspergers don’t quite understand how to interact so they do their best to mimic what they see others do.
    If you give the trainee step by step instructions, they will do much better.
    You say you have training notes from the sessions- are they sort of like that or easily made into step by step? Perhaps that, in a binder, would be the best thing until the person is comfortable with the routine

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I posted my request at the top not to try to diagnose the coworker after this comment — and I wanted to clear that up for anyone who thought Jenniy was flagrantly ignoring it :)

      (And Jenniy, no criticism of you in particular — I know it’s easy to fall into doing this.)

      1. Jennifer*

        Thanks Alison.
        Armchair diagnosis aside, still might try the step by step instruction/ putting the notes into a binder for the new hire to have as references. They might be embarrassed to have to ask, plus it’ll make a great training reference for future hires

  10. T3k*

    For #4, depending on your boss’ sense of humor, I’d start putting funny reasons like “Brain ran off, taking day off to find it.”

    1. SCMill*

      When I don’t want to give a reason that I’ll be out, I just say that I have personal business to attend to in a tone of voice meant to imply it’s none of theirs. Never been questioned further.

      1. Nashira*

        No, then when your fifty year old coworkers come due, they want you to tell them how it goes.

        “Why my coworkers know I have had one” is best answered by “reasons to stay the heck home when you’re on opiates and your coworkers are super nosy.” Aaaagggghhhh, me.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          My former coworker showed me a photo from his colonoscopy. We were good friends and I think he was just trying to gross me out. He was successful in his endeavor!

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      This is good! Also, a friend who works for the feds (US) once told me that her supervisor is not allowed to ask her why she will be out if she is using personal/vacation time. The supervisor can ask for documentation if it is sick leave, but otherwise it’s off limits. Anyone know if this is true?

      It would be good if private businesses followed this practice as well.

      1. Bostonian*

        This can really depend on office culture, though. I worked in a small office (5 people), and we were all pretty friendly with each other. Casually asking about our vacation plans when we had a week off scheduled was pretty par for the course, and it would have been kind of weird to ban those sorts of questions. People could respond in vague ways about appointments and personal business and such, and none of us would pry beyond that – I think respecting that boundary is more important than not asking in the first place, if the office culture is otherwise good and the manager doesn’t have other boundary issues (so employees don’t feel like they have to answer with details).

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          I think it’s pretty normal for coworkers to ask in a friendly way (i.e., got any fun plans for your days off?) but when it comes to the boss, they should probably wait and see if the employee volunteers the information. I might not care if my coworkers know that I’m taking time off to sit on my butt on the couch, but I may not want the boss knowing that in case they decide, “hey, Monodon’s not doing anything important, I’ll give her a call and see if she can tell me about the sea ice report.”

  11. Mabel*

    Regarding #5: I used to go to therapy during the day, and my manager never asked me what the standing appointment was for. She was an awesome manager! And we talked about personal stuff, so it wasn’t that she didn’t care or that we didn’t talk about personal things, but when I didn’t volunteer the information, I guess she knew not to ask.

    1. A Non*

      My experience was similar. I did let my teammates know that I had a standing appointment on X day that required leaving at Y time, so they knew I wasn’t just ditching work because I could. But no details were ever asked for. “Standing appointment” was all it took. (I was also salaried and not required to work a schedule, which really, really makes this easier.)

    2. Jen RO*

      From my point of view, as a manager, the habit of talking about personal things makes it easier to figure out when *not* to ask for details. My reports come to me with things from health issues to interviewing in other places, so when they don’t volunteer information about an absence I know that it’s something that they really don’t want to share and I don’t pry.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I have this relationship with my boss and it’s great. Most of the time if I put in for vacation he’ll ask, casually, “Doing something fun?” Usually I say something like, “I’m going to ComiCon!” or “Visiting my friends in Tucson!” or whatever. But if I say, “Oh, you know, just wanted a few days off,” he doesn’t push–and if I want those days off for something that I don’t feel up to discussing (visiting ill relatives, minor surgery, etc.) he knows not to press.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      My boss doesn’t ask either. I usually tell her stuff, but she’s really good about “take time to do whatever you need to do.” I’ve been here nearly three years and I’m still not used to that.

      I would be tempted to write silly stuff on the board, like “Going on an adventure!” or “Off to find what’s left of my sanity.”

      1. Nom d' Pixel*

        I like to travel, and I have an adventurous streak, so if I answered “going on an adventure” they would believe me and ask what I was up to.

    4. Allison*

      Makes sense, I’d imagine that most standing appointments are for medical or mental health issues that most people would be too embarrassed to share.

    5. Nom d' Pixel*

      That is the general policy in our department. We approve time off without question, whether it is three weeks or just leaving at noon on Friday. If you have the vacation time on the books, it is yours to take. It is so nice, but I have found that it confuses some new people. They feel that they have to give some story to justify taking a long weekend, but eventually the come around.
      The only time justification is required is if someone is taking excessive medical leave. We don’t have a hard rule on the number of days that someone is allowed, so some people will abuse that from time-to-time.

  12. Dan*


    Yeah, I think AAM is right that the OP’s company might want to re-evaluate what signatures are necessary. The OP may inquire as to why, and I’d say that as an outside observer, it’s not normal to have to sign enough things that HR would feel like they have to get on someone’s case/involve their manager for paperwork.

    Someone should think about what they’re trying to accomplish by requiring hard copy signatures on *anything*. I assume that it’s because if it’s emailed out and the employee says, “Gee, I was never informed of X policy” the company can come back and say “BUT YOU SIGNED THE PAPERWORK! SEE! RIGHT HERE!” The key is that you actually want the employee to remember what they signed, right? Having them rush through the paperwork isn’t going to help them remember anything. They’re just going to remember that they signed something, and with the presumed volume the OP implies, that’s all the employee is going to remember. They’re certainly not going to remember what.

    What do you guys do with all of that signed paperwork anyway? Do you just keep it “on file” or do you actually ever refer back to it?

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      I had similar thoughts. The employee should be given enough time to READ the paperwork before signing it. Chasing after her for the signature isn’t the point.

      If any of these documents are legal contracts, they employee technically has the right to take them home with her and have a lawyer look at them before she signs them. While this isn’t reasonable or necessary in most cases, the employee shouldn’t be considered difficult for not wanting to slap her name on something she hasn’t had time to read.

      1. doreen*

        I don’t see any reason to assume the OP is trying to rush through the paperwork or not allowing the employee time to read the paperwork. I told my staff a month ago that a certain training had to be completed and I needed their signature on the training roster by today . They have received repeated reminders by both email and in meetings. Guess what I’ll be doing today?

        1. LBK*

          I think the point is that the task to be completed shouldn’t be “get Jane’s signature,” it should be “ensure Jane understands the company’s new security policy (and then signs off on her understanding)”. I think it may just be a semantic difference, though – I don’t think the OP actually just wants the signature without even going over the documents, otherwise I can’t imagine it would be this much hassle for something that takes literally less than 1 second.

          All that being said, I do agree that it sounds a little cumbersome. We have maybe 3 things I have to sign off on every year and it’s all done electronically – I haven’t signed a paper form for HR since my hiring documents. Maybe this is something industry-specific that requires a certain amount of audit trail for legal compliance? If that’s the case, that may also give the OP firmer ground to stand on in the “you absolutely must sign this by Friday” argument.

        2. Mabel*

          I’m so glad we have an automated system for required training. Every month a report of non-compliance with training is automatically sent to managers. Managers are accountable for their teams’ training, and it’s a very big (negative) deal to have names of one’s subordinates on that report.

    2. BRR*

      Yeah I can’t understand why this has happened often enough to be an issue.

      I couldn’t tell from the letter but the LW should make sure they’re giving the employee a heads up if they’re not. If you’re handing me something to read that’s 5 pages I want to look it over and might not be able to stop everything I’m doing. Maybe email it out and ask for it back by X date?

      1. Ani*

        My first salaried job out of college was as an administrative assistant in HR — I only worked there 3 months, but honestly, it already was clear there were a handful of people in the organization of about 200 who just always required repeated hounding for every damn thing. I mean it was the same 3 or 4 people Every. Time.

    3. AnotherHRPro*

      It does seem odd that HR is needing an employee to sign things frequently. It seems a little bureaucratic and old school.

      But, assuming that OP does need paperwork signed, that responsibility should fall on the manager. Inform the manager what needs to be signed by whom and when it needs to be returned. If the boss is responsible for getting it signed, it will get signed.

    4. Shakespeare's Ghostwriter*

      We had an incident with an employee where she was overheard saying, “I don’t take orders from a [n-word],” referring to her supervisor, by a couple of coworkers. She was, of course, immediately terminated. Because she had never returned the form she was supposed to sign stating that she had been informed of company policies, she has been able to collect unemployment.

      Never mind that it should be common sense to not use racial slurs at work AT ALL EVER. Because we “didn’t inform her” that that sort of behavior is against company policy, we’re being charged unemployment for her.

      So yeah, sometimes having that one stupid piece of paper is pretty important.

      1. Observer*

        I’m all for employee friendly policies, but this seems a bit much. Since when does a company need a formal policy that needs to be “communicated” in order to enforce basic workplace behavior? The racial slur and the insubordination are each sufficiently egregious that I would have thought that either one would be grounds for discipline without warning.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I was thinking the same thing. I’m trying to remember if every job I’ve had has provided a written policy about discrimination or something, and I’m leaning toward no. Did the company try to fight the claim in court, or did HR just say it was no use because she didn’t sign the form? I realize unemployment laws vary pretty widely by state, but certainly this isn’t a case of becoming unemployed “through no fault of your own.” Is that not the language your state uses?

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        You can’t enumerate every single thing employees aren’t supposed to do. “Also, don’t pick your nose and eat it in front of customers. And don’t get in screaming arguments on the phone with you significant other. And don’t pitch a tent in front of the building and live there.” “Well, nobody ever TOLD ME I couldn’t construct a giant Carmina Burana hat out of break room snacks!”

    5. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, this strikes me as HR being overzealous about CYA moves. If the OP can influence the process, it might help to look at what really needs to be signed and what doesn’t. Then, when something absolutely does need to be signed, don’t be afraid to stand at someone’s desk and wait for her to sign the damn thing.

    6. Lily in NYC*

      I feel like I read this one differently than everyone else. I think that the coworker has a position that requires a lot of signing. Part of my job requires me to chase down lawyers to sign contracts and there are always a few who take forever. The other attorneys are just as busy and it’s a lame excuse. There are always people who can’t be bothered with things they consider petty even though those signatures are usually needed in a timely manner. It’s an integral part of the job and they just refuse to take it seriously. These contracts are often for millions of dollars and I’m the one who is held accountable when things get delayed.

    7. JMegan*

      If you have a lot of documents for her to sign, it might be a good idea to provide a summary of each.

      Jane, we need you to sign the following:
      *Revised Dress Code Policy – the only change from the last version is that you’re no longer allowed to wear green socks on Fridays.
      *The Team Building Policy is entirely new, and the key points are X and Y.
      *Vacation Policy – it’s important that you understand this one, so please let me know if you have any questions.
      *The Child Care Policy doesn’t apply to you since you don’t have children, but I’m required to make sure you sign it anyway.

      It will likely be helpful for her to be able to prioritize, rather than feeling like she has to read every word of every document. Yes also to making an appointment in her calendar, and to reviewing your own procedures to make sure what you’re asking is reasonable.

    8. Nom d' Pixel*

      I work in a field that is strictly regulated by a government agency which can inspect us at any time. The first thing they go for are training records. Then they go into all the other documentation. I probably sign my name either physically or electronically 20-50 times a day because of “compliance” issues.

  13. AnnieNonymous*

    #3 Is it possible that this employee just isn’t qualified? Or that she’s rude?

    I’d like to think that I”m a fairly intelligent person, but I never got the hang of UPS shipments at one of my old jobs. I mostly handled regular mail, and on the rare days when I was assigned to do UPS, I realized I didn’t have a feel for the different system. Is something like this going on? When you’re dealing with mail and customer shipments, mistakes can cost the company a lot of money, and it’s easy to freak out when you’ve been assigned to use a system that isn’t the one you normally use. It didn’t help that my peer-level coworkers were all giving me different answers when I would ask about weight designations and delivery speed and whatnot.

    So yeah, mail systems in particular can be hard to navigate, even if you’re generally good with workplace stuff.

    1. LBK*

      I’m not really sure I can get behind the idea that sending a UPS shipment is complicated, especially with someone there to guide you through some of the stuff you might not know offhand like the size/type/speed of the shipment. The website is pretty straightforward. It also sounds like this is something the employee is having to use a lot, not just a random one-off without anyone showing her how to do it.

      Either way, I think this was just meant to be an example of a standard task the OP has shown the employee how to do and she can’t grasp – I don’t know if it’s helpful to nitpick that example rather than just trusting the OP’s word that the employee can’t do the basic work required for the job.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I did work one place that had an absurdly complicated mailing procedure. It’s not that the actual postal service’s procedure was complicated, it was the internal process of billing it. Huge headache.

      2. Bostonian*

        Admin stuff can take a long time to train in because there are so many little details. I was at one summer internship where I felt like I was asking annoying admin questions the entire three months – sending a fax, getting something printed in bulk, sending interoffice mail to a different building, getting an invoice paid, finding where they kept the spare binders or flip chart easels or signs for events, etc. etc. etc. Each thing only came up rarely and it was a bureaucratic local government office so I had to ask for instructions or reminders constantly. But I knew when I had been shown something before and I was otherwise good at the bulk of the work they had me doing.

        It’s not unusual for someone in a different kind of job (say, research or policy) to have trouble when they come across an admin task they have to do because it’s so rare that they have to send a package from that office/use the copier to make booklets/use the company account to order supplies. But it really doesn’t sound like that’s what’s going on with OP#2, who is having trouble across the board and is also having trouble on the social and attitude front.

      3. AnnieNonymous*

        To be specific about it, UPS’s proprietary software (for printing out the mailing labels and purchasing the postage) is incredibly cumbersome and confusing, and it has very little in common with any of the software/companies that you use to label and ship through regular mail. You can usually import addresses to regular mail from your order-taking system, but UPS doesn’t always let you. You have to type it all in manually, and the way the fields are used isn’t consistent. I don’t want to get hung up on this one point, but IMO, the UPS software requires its own training. I’ve known a lot of smart people who can’t always remember how to use it.

    2. Not me*

      +1 to “just not qualified” and “rude.” Her defensiveness and apparent refusal to look in her inbox for older instructions (!) are problems, whether she has a learning or developmental condition or not.

      (While I don’t want to speculate about her, I will say that I have ADHD and it can cause some learning issues. But when you have had something like this for your whole life, you learn how to handle it.)

  14. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    Two thoughts for #1:

    * Is there any way to make the process simpler for her? Does she have to print out documents, sign them, and deal with getting the paper back to you? If so, could you start using something like DocuSign or at least allowing PDF signatures so it’s a faster process?

    * I just listened to an NPR podcast about psychology where they talked about a study that found that people were much more likely to respond to a survey when the survey giver put a personalized post-it on the survey… so you could try that? ;-)

    1. Allison Mary*

      I love DocuSign! That tool changed my life in a past job where I had to ensure certain documents were correct/complete before scanning and uploading them into a database. :)

  15. Bluesboy*

    @#1 If you were writing about a man I’d think you were my HR guy…

    I think the problem here, at least for me but maybe for your colleague too, is about important priorities vs urgent priorities. I know getting those signatures in is important. But I don’t see it as urgent in the same way as, for example, finishing preparation for the client meeting starting in 30 minutes. So if you just pop by my office now asking for signatures on something that needs to be read/explained…it’s not happening!

    What I need from you is an explanation of urgency. If you tell me that you need 15 minutes with me before the 25th, I will happily fit you in, and at a time convenient for both of us (so I’ll also have more time for you and be more relaxed).

    How do you try to get these signatures OP? Do you pop by their office when it’s convenient (for you), do you email and ask for them, do you call?

    Last thing, although this may not be relevant to you. I get annoyed with HR when EVERYTHING is urgent. Make sure you’re well organised so that when it really is urgent, I’m sympathetic. When everything is apparently urgent it’s a bit ‘boy who cried wolf’, and I’ll start worrying less about missing your deadlines…not to say I should, but deadlines are taken more seriously when they’re realistic.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I’m not saying this is the OP, but folks in HR generally need to have a better appreciation of their customers’ (employees and managers) experience. That does not mean that you don’t require things that need to be done, but at least look at your process, product, tool, resource, etc. from the end-user experience.

      1. LBK*

        But HR is part of the company. These aren’t clients or customers – they’re your coworkers. HR people have a job to do that contributes to the success of the company just like everyone else. That’s not to say that HR shouldn’t try to ensure they’re efficient and understanding of the needs of other departments since that’s part of doing their jobs well, but their needs are also business needs.

        I’m no fan of needless bureaucracy, but I do have sympathy for HR people who are treated like some weird, annoying outsiders in a way that other departments wouldn’t be.

        1. Graciosa*

          I understood AnotherHRPro’s comment about the HR customer experience to reflect a normal understanding that this is a service function within the company, not to be distancing or reflect an “outsider” mentality. I’m also in a service function, and we do refer to our clients and customers when speaking of the various people or groups we support. Thinking and speaking this way tends to make it *less* likely we’ll treat people in ways that create a perception that we are weird, annoying outsiders.

          1. LBK*

            That’s so odd to me. I think treating someone as a customer immediately puts up a wall because there’s things you wouldn’t do and say to customers that you would to coworkers.

        2. LQ*

          I don’t know I think this can depend. Some places HR, IT, Training etc are looked at as serving an internal customer. Certainly all of those things contribute to the success of the company. But they are all there to support the main function of the organization. If you make teapots and your IT team is actively working against making teapots because they are too focused on following their procedures then maybe you fire your IT team and get an outside consultant company to come in and be your IT.

          Having these groups not try to hoard power and instead treat their coworkers like clients can make a difference at some places. Your customer is the person you are trying to help, either someone trying to understand their benefits, get their computer working or whatever.

        3. Student*

          HR is fundamentally there as a support department. HR doesn’t bring in money or clients or work with products or services. They are only there to make the company run better. As such, they should act like a support department – get their jobs done in a way that brings minimal negative impact to the rest of the business. Sometimes that means getting up in the face of a product-maker who isn’t signing a document that could put the company in real legal jeopardy if it isn’t signed, for the good of the overall company. Sometimes that means waiting on the convenience of a product-maker to go over and get signatures on documents that aren’t urgently important, even though that is inconvenient for the HR person, for the good of the overall company.

          1. LBK*

            I’ve always worked in support departments – not ones that are so detached from the company’s core industry like HR, but I’m very familiar with the idea of existing to support the people who make the money. I still have a job to get done and I still expect my priorities to be treated with respect. That’s not to say that I expect my priorities to outweigh the priorities of the people I’m working with. However, I do expect a level of understanding that I’m also an employee of this company, that I wouldn’t be an employee if I didn’t do something worthwhile that the company believed needed to be done, and that I’m just as interested in doing my job well as you are. Sometimes that’s going to mean staking out a place on your list of priorities.

            1. AnotherFed*

              Right, and that’s totally fair. And it sounds like you’re pretty reasonable about recognizing that while you have your own priorities, they aren’t necessarily the same as the priorities of the people you support, so priorities have to get racked and stacked and yours don’t always win. What gives many people heartburn is when a support person does not understand there are potentially competing priorities or the support dept are manufacturing unnecessary urgent/rush tasks for others.

  16. Merry and Bright*

    #1 When you get a lot of office updates, stuff to sign and so on, it is quite easy to just add it to your To Do List especially when there is stuff that seems more pressing – like you are about to go into a meeting, or your manager has emailed you stuff, there is a 4 pm deadline looming, etc. So it does take a bit of discipline to set time aside.

    But does this staff member have more documents to sign and read than other people? Is she still new and it’s part of the lengthy onboarding? If not, and it is the same amount of paperwork everyone else gets, it could be an organisational issue or maybe she just hates forms!

  17. Blurgle*

    #3 – I’m worried that HR has already made a complaint about her to management. It’s as if she were being set up to fail.

  18. Erin*

    LW#2 I’ve worked with people with different learning/mental disabilities. (And it is classified as a disability here, I don’t know if that would be the case in the US with ADA.)
    They can be very productive and perform reasonably well if you explain it the right way, and sometimes you’d be surprised by how simple and logical it can be.
    Maybe you can look for resources that would help you figure out how to mentor the coworker in a more productive way. There are many organizations which share these things freely because it is in everyone’s best interest to help people fit in and find and keep jobs.
    And for UPS-type things… Can you write down simple instructions? If there is a disability, you can do the same for some other procedures and in time have a manual that might be useful for other new employees and actually might save you some time in the future.

    1. VictoriaHR*

      Someone with ASD checking in – I’ve been known to doodle in meetings rather than writing down random stuff, but not when it’s instructions for something that I need to do, that I always write down. I’ve been “talked to” when someone was concerned that I wasn’t taking in information because I wasn’t writing it down. Some people are just more verbal learners.

      Before I was diagnosed, I had a lot of similar struggles at work. I learned to not be defensive because it never went well, just take the feedback and say “thanks” and try harder. That was in my 20’s, I’m 40 now. If this person is younger, she may feel like I did back then. Wanting to defend herself and that comes across badly.

      In any case, Alison’s right in that it’s this person’s manager who needs to take care of this. I hope the manager approaches it in the right way, rather than what happened to me multiple times in that “YOU do everything wrong, YOU need to fix this, YOU need to just know how to fix it and I won’t tell you. YOUR body language is YOUR problem, not the problem of the person misinterpreting it, etc.”

      1. Meg Murry*

        Never diagnosed with ASD, but I have been diagnosed with ADHD and have some ASD-like tendencies. I also find that light doodling in meetings (drawing circles, spirals, simple flowers or other geometric shapes usually, or coloring in every other line on the margins) actually helps me keep my ears focused on what I am listening to and my brain take in the information, if it’s “good to know but not something I need to take notes on info”. Otherwise I find myself doing other distracting fidget-y things like clicking my pen, twirling my pen, twirling/pulling at my hair, tapping my foot, or looking around the room and focusing on something utterly unrelated like counting the floor or ceiling tiles.

        I try to make the doodling not so obviously different looking from taking notes to anyone that can’t see my paper, but I do find that doodling actually helps me pay attention (or at least stay in my seat and look moderately attentive until the part of the meeting that is most relevant to me).

        For me, the key to whether doodling is interfering with her participation/attention in the meeting is to ask her a question. If she can answer your question – she is paying attention, even if it isn’t totally obvious to you. If you get a blank look and a “huh?” she might be using doodling as a way to check out mentally.

        1. Mabel*

          This is so helpful! I have always felt like I could not sit still, especially during phone meetings where I can’t see the people I’m talking to, and I’ve doodled and felt guilty about it. I feel a lot better now.

        2. Just Visiting*

          Same here. I have a notebook that’s nothing but doodles I’ve made in meetings. I don’t really try to hide it either, our meetings are so small that I can’t. Better than zoning out.

        3. A Bug!*

          I agree. As a person who doodles, I absolutely consider doodling to be a distraction. However, for me it is a controllable distraction that allows me to occupy my hands and a part of my brain that isn’t needed for listening (provided I’m mindful not to let it progress into drawing).

          Without that portion of my brain occupied, my mind has a tendency to wander, so even though I look like I’m listening, I’m not necessarily hearing or retaining anything. Taking notes has a similar effect, but it doesn’t really work unless it’s something that I need to be taking notes about; if it’s just notes for notes’ sake then it interferes with my listening.

      2. They do!*

        While I of course want to be sensitive to people with disabilities, isn’t your body language your problem, Not the problem of the person interpreting it?
        There are body language themes that are intrinsically part of our culture, and some that even are part of being human (smiling). Just like Holding up 2 fingers (Index and middle fingers) means “two” in most western countries, but means Go To Hell in Greece. If you’re in Greece, you should be aware that if you’re doing that you’re insulting someone – and not do that.
        I get that people on the spectrum may not be aware depending on the severity of the spectrum. But, I am talking about in general, people ARE responsible for their own body language. My cousin falls on the spectrum, in a mild/moderate range. He doesn’t get a lot of social cues, but he often CAN get that someone seems confused – and will volunteer that he is unable to interpret a lot of social cues and to bear with him. (Sometimes, someone might be confused for a completely other reason than him missing a social cue, but he tends to take quick notice of the face of ‘confusion’ and volunteer that information as a reflex when he sees that).

        1. Tara*

          No, because as you pointed out– the way we interpret body language is completely subjective. It’s up to you if you’re going to insist on misinterpreting the body language of someone who you’re well aware has a different way of interacting with their surroundings then you do.

          1. fposte*

            It’s not an either/or, though. It’s kind of like conversations we’ve had here about Resting Bitch Face and its impact on your co-workers; some may get that it doesn’t mean you’re miserable and unapproachable, but they’re not all going to, and it’s to your own advantage to find a way to present yourself more effectively.

            And some body language is subjective, but even “subjective” can mean “there’s a clear cultural norm here even if there isn’t everywhere,” and sometimes it’s not subjective at all but pretty deeply wired. So no, it’s not entirely on everybody else to understand what somebody means without that somebody attempting to communicate more clearly.

    2. Blurgle*

      This may be a good place to point out that the phrase “learning disability” has vastly different meanings in different countries.

      In the US it often refers only to things like dyslexia or ADD/ADHD; here in Canada it may include neurological differences like ASD and even sensory deficiencies like deafness and visual impairment. In the UK, on the other hand, the phrase usually refers only to intellectual disabilities, whereas in North America it never does. (In fact, in North America the phrase “learning disabled” infers that the person is disabled despite being of normal intelligence!)

      1. Anx*

        In the US, I’m pretty sure ADHD is considered a neurological disorder, although it is in practice also a learning ability. In fact, many people with ADHD are pretty good learners (at least in an academic or work setting) and have more difficulty with putting it into practice. And of course, ADHD affects people of all IQs.

        1. Ad Astra*

          My understanding (in the U.S.) is that there’s a significant neurological or psychological difference between ADHD and learning disabilities like dyslexia. So if you’re a school psychologist or a researcher or something, that’s an important difference.

          But, in practice, ADHD affects children’s functioning in school in similar ways. Both tend to require accommodations, which in both cases is set up with an IEP or a 504 meeting. Both come with school and workplace protections under ADA. So if you’re a teacher or a lawyer, it makes sense to classify them both as learning disabilities for your purposes.

          In my experience, “developmental disabilities” usually applies specifically to things like Down Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, though there’s some overlap there with the term “intellectual disabilities.”

    3. Bostonian*

      Is it really on the OP to do this proactively, though? If the coworker needs information presented differently, it seems to me that it should be up to the coworker (and the coworker’s manager) to request that and explain what their needs are. Otherwise we’d all have to run around armchair diagnosing our coworkers and guessing at their needs and doing our own research on different learning styles, and that’s really not in most people’s job descriptions or the best use of their time.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes, I think it’s *incredibly* important not to implement any workplace adjustments on armchair diagnoses, and for managers/mentors/trainers to be told about any disabilities etc, so they can make sure they’re doing all they can do. The idea of someone deciding someone else has ADHD and treating them differently without even telling the employee – yikes!

  19. misspiggy*

    OP#1 might also want to review how training and mentoring is done. If training is mostly explanation, with little practice, review or consolidation, many people will struggle but they won’t let on. Most will spend substantial time patching the gaps on their own, reviewing written instructions and finding stuff out all over again. Someone with learning disabilities, or someone without the confidence or skills to clarify or research, will stand out.

    Someone not taking notes is a sign that they aren’t understanding what’s being said, or that they can’t take notes (some people can’t process writing while listening, for example). As others have said, a step by step manual is a better idea if possible. For on the job training I try to get each person to do most procedures, assisting if necessary. At each stage I prompt them to write down what they just did or tick off that step in the manual. If it’s not possible to train in such a hands-on way, that’s fine, but expectations of the results should be lower.

    1. VictoriaHR*

      Yes – so many jobs I’ve had, never had any written procedures, so I always created them for myself as I went through training. Then I’d share my written stuff with other new trainees and people would seem extremely surprised that it was possible to document procedures.

  20. Apollo Warbucks*

    #3 The whole thing sounds strange to me, I’ve never known providing documents to be anything other than a formality to make sure an employee has the right to work in the country and establish legal identity. I’ve never had my documents scrutinised in any great detail or had to provide multiple documents when starting a job. (Including when working overseas.)

    Even if HR have reason to be suspicious of a new employees right to work in the US (and there’s no reason to think they did in this case) they should handle follow up queries with some tact and subtlety.

    The fact that the HR person was happy to violate the law and threaten to withhold the OP’s pay check is so wrong and I can make no sense of asking for proof of marriage to validate someone relationship to list them as next of kin, that’s just bizarre and unnecessary.

    Maybe the OP could find some other recent new employees and ask them about the on boarding process and see how they were treated by the same HR person, to see if the person is a jerk who’s bad at the job in general or to see they were treated differently which might point to racism or homophobia.

    1. Myrin*

      I like the idea of asking other employess who had to deal with this HR person regarding their onboarding materials! (The more I think about this, the more confused yet angry I become – how utterly weird and micro-manage-y, not to mention potentially discriminating!)

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. I find it particularly strange that the HR office is sitting empty so often – not good. Either this HR person is not doing her job *in general* or is deliberately stonewalling certain employees. Neither is acceptable.

        1. Myrin*

          Not only that, but the HR office is sitting empty when someone specifically made an appointment for that time. Twice! I am beyond words here, honestly.

          1. OhNo*

            Agreed. Once I could understand, but more than that – especially having to wait 45 minutes the second time! – definitely sets off my “deliberate avoidance” alarms. If nothing else, I hope the OP tells a manager of some kind so that they know what knd of weird behavior the HR person seems to think is okay.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      SO many red flags. I can’t understand for a moment why who’s on the Next Of Kin is even an issue, except for homophobia.

  21. Rebecca*

    #2 – When I have to learn a new multi task procedure, I make a checklist. First, I watch and take notes, make an outline of the steps, review it again against my notes, then as I’m doing the procedure on my own, check off each step. I’ll even add screen shots to the WordDoc for clarification later, especially if this is something that I’ll be doing once a month or once a quarter, so I have a visual cue of what the results are supposed to look like.

    Usually after using this for a while, one day I find that I just don’t need it, it’s been committed to memory.

    Perhaps you could help your coworker develop a checklist for things she is having trouble with, like the UPS shipment issue? If you develop procedural check lists for her, you could also use them for other new employees.

    1. Lindrine*

      +100 this. I often write up documentation on common website tasks or tasks that may not be routine but could be done step by step. I still have trouble remembering how to do certain things on the printer or ship things. It’s not part of my daily routine so a checklist would be awesome.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      We have a series of checklists in my office that we have all built for different processes related to our jobs.

      When my coworker was out on maternity leave last year the temp told us we were, “her favorite office” because everything was easy to follow. I imagine they would be a boon for new employees as well!

      I love it too because there are tasks I only do occasionally and its so much better when I can grab a task list rather than having to ask my coworker 100 questions.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        Cue to pimp The Checklist Manifesto – great book with analysis of how checklists improve quality, especially in the medical field.

        Never underestimate the power of a good checklist.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I elected to use post-its on my bathroom mirror, but with my mini-checklists. I’ a post-it note addict at work. I think I single-handedly keep 3M and Sanford in business with my post-its and Sharpies collection.

    1. J.B.*

      I’ve worked with a number of people like this (feature of the breed in which I am employed.) It would make a big difference for a manager to actually address it. As to how specifically I couldn’t begin to guess, other than addressing the problematic behaviors and asking for ways to address it. And doing so kindly so that the person could feel open communicating back???

    2. fposte*

      Reexamine the hiring procedures. Having problems is one thing; having problems and being defensive and not collaborating on solutions is a big deal to me, and I’d be seriously wondering what I screwed up in hiring. I might also wonder if she was viable in the job, but I’d need to know more about the actual job and about the employee to say.

      1. AMT*

        Yep. I’ve read a bunch of comments here about how the manager could help the employee with checklists and learning aids, but honestly, it’s REALLY hard to work with someone with no problem-solving skills and a poor memory. Checklists might help, but when her workflow changes — a piece of software gets updated, a policy changes — things are going to grind to a halt until someone takes on the onerous task of re-training her. The entire staff is going to be picking up the slack. I know this sounds mean, but someone who isn’t able to do a complex, changing job without a lot of hand-holding needs to get a simpler, more straightforward job.

        1. Anx*

          I agree that it can be unfair to the rest of the staff, but I wonder if part of the reason so many people struggle with this is that simple, straightforward jobs aren’t so easy to find (are being automated, restructured, outsourced), don’t offer a living wage, or that candidates do have other specialized skills, talents, and training that would be totally wasted in that environment.

          This doesn’t mean the OP has to just accept this, but I’m wondering how many jobs are really out there for people who are challenged with work flow processes and adjustments like that.

          1. Manders*

            That’s a good point. It’s a complex issue, and it starts before people even enter the workforce–my problem coworker probably would have done well at a simpler job, but since her parents had pushed her through college she believed that she was qualified for more advanced work, even though she had barely made it through her courses and hadn’t really picked up any useful skills from the experience. Plus, she now had debt to pay back and couldn’t do that with a job that didn’t pay a living wage.

            My partner, who teaches undergrad courses at a public university, has told me that there’s a certain subset of his students who don’t want to be in college and will go on to struggle at the kind of jobs his courses are supposed to prepare them for. They could do very well in a simple, straightforward job, but that sort of job just doesn’t pay living wage in our area.

          2. AMT*

            This is why we need universal basic income in this country! Simple jobs are becoming automated or outsourced. It’s not like thousands of people suddenly became lazy. There literally isn’t enough work for everyone. No one should be hungry because of economic forces beyond their control.

      2. Manders*

        Yes, I worked with someone like this and the hiring process was definitely the problem. The next time, my boss cast a much wider net instead of refusing to interview multiple people, and I made some simple skills tests to make sure our new hire knew how to use certain programs. I’m not sure a reference check would have turned up anything for our problem employee, but one absolutely should have been done anyway.

      3. BookCocoon*

        This was the issue in our very similar case. Our original person quit after a week (which is its own story) so our boss brought in one more person who had been in the original pool because she had applied late, and then hired her because he wanted to be done with it. I brought up multiple red flags to our boss after the interview, but he thought I was being unreasonable and prejudiced because she had been out of the workforce for 20 years. Now I’m the one having to train (and retrain and retrain…) her on everything, all day long, while he’s too busy to supervise her.

    3. LBK*

      Having had a coworker like this who was ultimately fired, she was treated like any other struggling employee – set clear expectations, ask if she can meet those expectations and what she needs from you in order to do so, move her to a PIP if she doesn’t improve and then fire her if needed. If she needs some kind of accommodation, obviously leave an opening for her to request one and work with her on it if needed, but honestly if this is some kind of severe ADHD or other developmental disorder I’m not sure what accommodation could be provided. It sounds like medication and/or therapy would be the answer.

      1. PIP*

        Agree – best handled via the manager and entirely focusing on work performance.

        We had a colleague who was exhibiting similar behaviours and they were performance managed out of their job over the course of 18 months, but in such a way that they were eventually advised that their choice was to resign or to see a work-approved medical professional for assessment for work capability (noting that we have basically free healthcare, so it wasn’t a financial imposition). Because it was done that way, the union couldn’t object and she got the care she desperately needed.

  22. Not Today Satan*

    Why is she signing policies and new hire paperwork at the same time as “evaluations” (which I’m guessing are performance evaluations, but I could be wrong)? Either way, new hire paperwork should all be done in one shot, before the worker has started working in earnest–for exactly this reason.

    I’m going through a similar situation right now where our HR keeps giving me forms to sign/things to review that they forgot to give me at hire, and I have a job where I am legitimately, 100% busy all the hours I’m on the clock, so it’s not cute.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      Nevermind, I reread and saw that this isn’t a new hire. In that case I would suggest just having employees sign the updated policy manual annually, and sending them some sort of online thing to click if a new policy absolutely needs to be “signed.”

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        I actually question the need to have the employee sign off on policies just to indicate that they have read them (I’m assuming that is the case). As long as it is a communicated expectation that all employees are responsible for knowing and abiding by all company policies and the company makes reasonably sure that employees know when policies are updated/implemented (sending out an email and/or posting on the companies intranet site) there is really no need to distribute and collect signed documents from everyone.

        If for some crazy reason, the OP’s company is adamant about employee’s acknowledging that they have read each and every policy – figure out a way to do it electronically. If electronic signatures or online acknowledgements are not an option the OP could use voting buttons in outlook.

        I can’t imagine dealing with the paperwork!

        1. Meg Murry*

          We are accredited by an outside auditor for a very specific quality standard (more stringent than ISO:9001/14001/TS16949, for those of you familiar with some of these) and our auditor required us to keep proof that all employees who are “officially” trained and certified on certain policies and test methods have also read, reviewed and been trained on any revisions to that method.

          We tried Outlook voting, but we have found that for our very small company, circulating a piece of paper that we all sign and then putting that paper in a binder is actually more efficient and gets done.

          For a larger company, I could see electronic options working, but for a small company, physical signatures actually aren’t that bad – we usually review new policies and procedures at the monthly staff meeting, and then sign after that. But for anything more than 1 signature a month, I agree that there needs to be a better way to handle it.

          As much as I prefer electronic options to paper ones, I also found that I got a much better response rate on things requiring signatures if I printed them myself and put them in the person’s mailbox (with an interoffice envelope if their mailbox wasn’t next to mine). Somehow, the extra steps of read email->print attachment->sign attachment->returned signed paper just didn’t always happen, but take paper out of mailbox->sign->put back in interoffice envelope had a better response rate. Annoying? Yes. But I did what it took to get the signatures I needed quickly.

  23. katamia*

    Re OP2, depending on what her manager says (and I definitely agree that that should be the first step), role playing certain situations could help if she will still be expected to do client-facing work.

    1. Oldblue*

      The manager cannot disclose anything about the diagnosis to the question asker unless the employee gives him permission. So she may already be doing certain things to accommodate for her disability.

      1. fposte*

        That wouldn’t prevent the OP from role-playing, though. Right now, she’s not involved in accommodations and is free to try training possibilities that might help. She doesn’t need a diagnosis to do that.

  24. Oldblue*

    I think it’s most likely the manager or company already knows about your coworker’s disability.

    1. fposte*

      Then they suck at dealing with it, because the person training her has received no guidance whatsoever. The OP doesn’t have to be told what the disability is, but if there’s a desired accommodation she needs to be part of it.

      I don’t think they’ve been told anything, or if they were they have no idea what to do for accommodation and need to discuss things with the worker.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think I agree. In my experience, it’s unusual for people to disclose things like autism or learning disorders at hiring, especially when they’re earlier in their career, trying to prove themselves, and unaware of the protections disclosing could offer. So they may know, it’s true, but I don’t think it’s likely.

            1. VictoriaHR*

              It’s also possible that the person isn’t even aware that she has a disability, if she has one. Women especially are often missed in autism diagnoses because we’re trained from an early age to be more social than boys, and we’re more adaptable so we can learn what’s expected and “fake it” better than men (IMO). I wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until I was 39. I was so relieved to have an answer to what was different (not “wrong”) with me, that I fully disclosed it in the hiring process for my current job.

              1. LD Anon*

                Very true. My sons have AS and ADHD and they were both diagnosed fairly easily at ages 12-13. I probably have some AS, but have never been diagnosed. And I didn’t know I had adult ADD until I was having my son tested and it occurred to me that maybe I need to be tested too. The ADD was definitely interfering with my work until I got the Dx and meds. None of us announce our conditions to future employers, that’s for sure (to fposte’s earlier point.) The manager is probably totally in the dark about this trainee’s condition. (which TBH might not be ADD or AS at all – we just don’t know.)

        1. BRR*

          We can’t. I was scrolling down to write this if nobody else did. It’s perfectly reasonably they just suck at their job. I have a coworker who I sent an excel spreadsheet as an attached for a project that would then live with her files and so she could do with it as she pleased, she replied back asking if I could delete a column.

          1. LD Anon*

            This did cross my mind. I’d really love to know a few things here… how did she pass the interview? how did she get good references? how did she work at the places before the one she’s working at now? If she did well in her old jobs, what was different? What can the new job do to make her succeed like she did in the old jobs? All rhetorical questions of course; I don’t know how to get answers to any of them.

          2. Kelly L.*

            If I had a nickel for every time I sent someone a spreadsheet and they asked me to resend them a different version that was sorted by a different column…

            1. LCL*

              How about the manager who said I had the print area set up incorrectly? Thing was, he knows how to use excel! I think he was trying to make a point but it went right over my head.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      If we think of this as a quirk (shyness, social awkwardness, discomfort) rather than a disability…I hired someone who was a top notch interviewer who was quirky (though none of his references mentioned it).

      My lead was responsible for training him and she kept extending the training period. Finally I asked about it and the story was pretty similar – she wasn’t comfortable with him in front of clients.

      All this to say, the manager might not know and would want to hear the concerns.

    3. LBK*

      I don’t think this changes anything. Even with a disability, you still have to be able to perform the functions of the job with reasonable accommodation. It’s not carte blanche to suck at your job.

    4. Erin*

      Hmm, maybe, and that’s why they assigned OP to mentor this person, so that they themselves wouldn’t have to deal with her. (Not necessarily, though.)

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Though if that’s the case, they suck at reasonable adjustments, because while they don’t need to disclose a diagnosis, they should be saying something like “Can you train her with (eg) step-by-step processes” or whatever is the thing that would help the employee, rather than put the mentor in a frustrating situation that isn’t going to achieve anything.

  25. snuck*

    This is sort of on topic for #2, sort of off…

    Hewlett Packard has just advertised in Canberra (Australian Capital Territory – our Washington essentially) specifically for people diagnosed with Autism to work in their software test labs. It is a requirement for the role. I’m not sure where this stands in Australia’s discrimination laws, but given it’d be considered ‘positive’ discrimination unless a person brought a complaint or suit against HP for unfair hiring practices it probably will be allowed to proceed.

    Autism, while defined as a disability in Australia, doesn’t mean a person isn’t capable of working in all manner of roles, and in some roles their different ways of thinking can actually be a benefit. Somewhere where process and detail is important, where repetitively doing similar tasks etc… that can work well with some people with Autism. Roles where there’s a lot of varied fluid decision making and little structure might not work well for the average person with Autism (like a sales person in a high pressure creative role). People with the more simple and mild forms of Autism often work in the general population with barely a noticeable gap beyond being a bit less warm or connected maybe (maybe they don’t rush to the water cooler conversations) or with a greater focus on the detail of the jobs… but they can do all manner of jobs exceptionally well – they just need to learn how the same as others do.

    1. VictoriaHR*

      Yes, Specialisterne and Aspiritech are two companies who are at the forefront of promoting software testing jobs for ASD employees in the U.S.

  26. 140285*

    #5 “So you’ll want to be prepared for what you’ll say if she asks.” Isn’t this the whole reason she wrote in? Any ideas on what she should say, how much detail?

    1. BRR*

      Well I think the basics are covered in Alison’s response of those vague answers. The “be prepared” I think is deciding where your line is if you need to go further into detail to get approval.

    2. OP5*

      Hi! Thanks! I know she’s going to ask, and she’s pretty adamant about asking not questions sometimes. She’s in HR so you would think that she would know not to ask when I give vague answers but I know she will, I’ve seen her donut before. I suppose I’ll just have to stick to my guns and just say it’s standing and I really don’t want to talk about it.

      1. 140285*

        Yeah, I was hoping Alison would suggest something in between “after work commitment” and the actual class you’re taking. My strategy is to be prepared with some ‘free information’ – nuggets of information that I’m comfortable offering up, so I can fill the air with those.
        Like “I’m taking a course on x. I’ve heard taking a class here and there is a great way to stay sharp and meet people with common interests. I had a friend take a x class @ [place] before and she really enjoyed it.” “I was getting a little bored with my extracurricular—you can only watch so many episodes of x in one week before you think ‘what am I doing with my nights??’” As for why the specific subject, you could say you’ve always had an interest in it. You could say you’re looking at doing some volunteer work in the field on the weekends in the future—this wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway if it’s a field you’re trying to get into. You could also say you just looked at what’s available and this sounded like a great very interesting course, and you’ve heard great things about the professor.

        1. 140285*

          I didn’t mean to include the course in the first round, just “I’m taking a course. I hear…” but you get the idea.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        My office has a few people who leave early for a class that has nothing to do with our jobs and no one bats an eye over it. If your boss isn’t the paranoid type, I would just tell her you want to take a class.

        1. OP5*

          She’s definitely the “worst case scenario” type of person which is why I want to avoid telling her I am taking a class at all. I will stick with an after work commitment or a volunteer type of thing as best I can.

        2. Meg Murry*

          +1 to just saying “I want to take a class” possibly adding “for fun”. You could also possibly add something vague but true like “in the business college” or “just to keep my brain in learning mode”. And honestly, what if your boss did find out what the class was? Would it be totally obvious that you were looking to change careers (like taking a course in medical transcription, dental hygienist training or how to get your real estate license when none are remotely related to your field)? Or would it be the kind of thing someone might take a class in just for overall enrichment (a writing class, a statistics, economics or business class, or a “hobby” type class like cake decorating) but just isn’t relevant to your current job or company directly?

          As far as how it goes over with your boss, that probably depends on what the precedent is at your company, and what your job role is. Is your job a 9-5 job interacting with customers/clients where you leaving early requires someone else to cover for you? That might be harder to get the boss’s approval for something not directly job related or medical. Is it a “get all your projects done and it doesn’t really matter whether you are there at 7 am or 5 pm” job? More likely to get approval, assuming your boss isn’t annoying huge on face time/butt in seat time. It also depends if other coworkers occasionally flex their schedules (leaving early for appointments or to go to their kids soccer class or to beat rush hour or whatever) or if deviating from 9-5 is something that just is not done without lots of explanation.

          1. OP5*

            It would be completely obvious I am looking for a career change, it’s actually one of the ones you mentioned and I am in HR. People modify schedules here so it shouldn’t be a big deal at all, but I am the only employee in the HR department so there isn’t really a precedent in his department. Here’s to hoping it goes smoothly!

  27. F.*

    #1: There could be something of a power play going on on the part of the person procrastinating about signing the forms if everyone else in the company can manage to get it done in a timely fashion. I have a couple of employees who absolutely refuse to sign that they received the annual employee handbook. I know these employees well enough to know they’re pulling a passive-aggressive power play. So I send it to them electronically with delivery and read receipts. They are still bound by it whether they sign that they received it or not.
    #2: We had an employee who simply could not learn how to operate one of our machines from verbal or written instructions, so another employee used his cell phone to take pictures of the various steps to operate the machine, printed out the pictures and laminated them, and posted the pictures next to the machine. That, combined with plenty of hands-on practice, helped the employee master the machine.
    #3: Proof of marriage may be required if any of the benefits (health/dental/vision insurance, for example) are available only to married spouses and not unmarried couples. This would be regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race. Now that same-sex marriage is law, many insurance plans are requiring that couples be actually married to cover the second adult under the benefits.

  28. Amber Rose*

    #2, your coworker sounds a lot like mine (the interrupting conversations and training was seriously frustrating for us all). But it wasn’t any kind of disorder with him. He just had a personality and, I wanna say work ethic, which didn’t mesh with the company or the job. He was also deeply unhappy with the role which was different than I think he expected.

    What I’m trying to say is, there could be a few reasons for your coworker’s behavior and it really needs to be addressed by her manager before you end up where I am: cleaning up mistakes and messes months after the problem coworker was let go.

  29. OriginalEmma*

    Is the trainee given the opportunity to observe how procedures are done and then allowed to practice herself? For me, being given just spoken and written instructions is not useful. I must have the chance to observe and to do it myself, within a reasonable time of learning it, for the lesson to stick.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Same here, I learn by doing and taking things apart to see how they work. Not by being talked at and shown presentations (not to imply that this is what OP2 is doing, just sharing a fact about myself.) Wonder what happens when the trainee is given a simple assignment to apply what was shown to her in training. And then maybe walked through the portions of the assignment that she either has questions about, or gets wrong.

  30. SweetTeapots*

    Had to google ‘bogarting’ and the resulting definitions didn’t seem to match up with the usage here. Can anyone explain what it means? Is it just interrupting?

    1. Myrin*

      I had to look it up in a dictionary because I’m not a native speaker and I got two expressions meaning “monopolising”, which I think is it in this case.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I think of it as stealing, but Google says it’s slightly different. (see below) It’s definitely slang and what I would call out-dated slang. I think it appeared in a TV show or movie some years back, but I haven’t heard it in a while. (In retrospect, it could also be because I don’t use or watch TV or movies where marijuana joints.

        bo·gart /ˈbōɡärt/ verb USinformal
        gerund or present participle: bogarting
        selfishly appropriate or keep (something, especially a lit marijuana cigarette).

    2. fposte*

      “Monopolizing” is close. I think it’s origin is in smoking joints–Humphrey Bogart would have a cigarette just hanging in his mouth for ages, and you’re supposed to pass the joint along. So “Don’t bogart that joint” is probably the most common use.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I always inferred it to mean stealing and figured it was associated with Humphrey Bogart’s name, but could never figure out how. It’s definitely slang and I’d think of it as outdated slang because I haven’t heard it much lately in movies or TV. I never knew it had to do with marijuana and in retrospect it’s slang I would expect from a slacker/marijuana smoker. (Was it a line in Wanye’s World maybe?)


        Although I could figure out what it means, it did seem an unusual phrase in the letter instead of saying “hogging,” “taking over,” or “dominating” the conversation.

        1. LCL*

          Cite (too busy to look up the actual lyric author, don’t want that search in my browser history) song by Little Feat
          ‘Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
          pass it over to me
          You been holdin on to it
          And I sure would like a hit’

        2. Ashley*

          Reality Bites. “Don’t bogart that can, man.” Definitely referring to smoking pot, but more general usage meaning “don’t hog/take over the ____”.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Where I am, “bogarting the conversation” is definitely a phrase I’ve heard, and yeah, it means exactly that: overtaking or dominating the conversation and not letting anyone else get a word in edgewise.

  31. Recruit-O-Rama*

    I think it’s unfortunate that HR paperwork is sometimes seen as “not real work” In other words, “I don’t have time for your fake busywork paperwork because I have real work to do” It’s very insulting to HR professionals….the paperwork is part of the their real and important job. There are definitely ways to go about getting buy in and creating lengthy and unnecessarily complicated or long processes can be problematic, but I always assume that the paperwork HR asks me to review and sign for my file is important rather than assume it’s not.

    OP#1, if I were in your situation, I would email the employee and let her know that you need to have the paperwork signed by “X” date and that she should let you know when in that time frame she will be available to sign it. If she does not respond within 2 business days, resend the email and then if she still does not respond, send it again and CC her manager. I know many people don’t like CCing their co-worker’s supervisors, but I consider not responding to your co-worker’s legitimate business correspondence and passive non-cooperation to be a performance issue that should be addressed by that person’s supervisor.

    1. themmases*

      This is the kind of attitude I think people in the thread are talking about when they say more HR people need to see things from the employees’ perspective. Just because making sure that all copies of a policy get signed and returned is your job and your priority, doesn’t mean that signing one individual copy and returning it to you is someone else’s. That is really not even a comment on whether the paperwork is “real work” on your end, I’m not sure why you would think that it is. The point is that *signing* a particular form is really unlikely to be someone else’s top priority. It’s more like their commute: they need to do it to work, but it’s not the reason they were hired.

      I get that it is super annoying to have responsibility for a process but minimal authority over the people contributing. But it’s just a reality of work for most people, not an HR-specific thing, and treating it as “very insulting” is the definition of how not to handle it. Places I’ve worked, it would also be totally out of line to cc someone’s manager when they are responding to you, just busy (as the person in OP1 is); you’d only do it if the person totally stopped responding to you.

      1. Recruiter*

        This attitude that employees have about HR people needing to see things from the employees’ perspective is all fine and dandy…until that employee realizes there was a change with payroll/vacation/benefits/other important info, and freaks out on the HR department, claiming they were never told. That HR person probably did all he/she could to notify the employees of the change, send them the updated documentation to sign, and email out reminders. It’s not the HR department’s fault if other employees don’t take the HR department’s role in the company seriously.

  32. JeJe*

    #1 Do any of the required documents ask the employee to waive rights? For example, is she stalling on signing a No Compete agreement or a document that waives her right to a trial in the event of a dispute. If she’s asked to sign something she disagrees agrees, this is not right way to handle it.

  33. Sascha*

    #2 – Sounds exactly like the guy we just fired. It would amaze me how, after a solid YEAR, he would still forget how to do (or mess up) simple tasks he should have mastered in the first week. He always blamed his failings on not being trained, that no one told him, that the documentation was not thorough, etc. He also had a way of interfacing with people and speaking that was off, like OP describes. Whatever his reasons or causes of his behavior, he wasn’t making the effort to do better, after multiple PIPs and warnings, so he was let go.

  34. Helka*

    #2 – I’m going to give the same advice I always give about cases like this: do not focus on the cause of the behavior. Focus on the behavior itself, and focus on what is actually problematic versus what just bothers you personally.

    For example: doodling when she’s supposed to be listening. Some people are doodlers; there’s some overlap between “doodles” and “has some variant on ADHD” but the overlap isn’t total, and there’s some evidence that the doodling actually helps information retention — it’s a way to bleed off some level of distractability that engages a different part of the brain than the word-processing part. (Whereas note-taking also uses word-processing brainparts, therefore may actually hurt info retention.)

    Obviously, she has an info retention problem; focus on that. It sounds like you haven’t talked to her at all about the big picture of what’s going on with her. You might want to do that. Do not mention diagnoses (that is profoundly rude!) but point out that she seems to be having trouble remembering procedures, and ask her what strategies help her learn best. As for your concern that you’re not a manager — you’re a mentor! That’s what mentors are for! And as her trainer, it’s pertinent info for your job to know what learning style is the most effective for her.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah–I doodle at the same time as I’m taking notes. I’ve always done it, and I don’t really know why–but every meeting has some pauses between real information where people are kind of noodling around, and it always feels like the doodling keeps me focused during the noodling. :D

      1. AW*

        There are studies showing that using your hands while listening helps you retain information. There was one recently about how handwriting notes helps you remember better than typing them.

      2. 140285*

        I once had a very troubled team leader who was hostile toward me and every other woman who has worked under her. I was a good performer so she would be hostile about the most ridiculous things. At one point she gave me a written warning for doodling during a meeting, claiming that she and my male peer colleague are concerned about my focus. I pointed out that it was a simple , less than a square inch in size, a masterpiece I completed within 5 seconds while projector was booting up. She would not stand down, and claimed this doodle was a mere symptom of my productivity in general! When my male peer colleague left that job, he gave me some of his materials since I was left on the same team. His stuff was COVERED in doodles. Never once did she call him out on anything. I wanted to leave a particularly heavily doodled training document of his on her desk with a note that said “His doodles, not mine. by the way.” But I took the dang high road and left on polite terms due to concerns about her stability in general. She has since gotten in trouble due to growing complaints- I’d like to think I started the revolution. A friend of mine who still works there said no one had stood up to her before Doodlegate.

        1. Merry and Bright*

          For some reason this makes me think of David Copperfield’s schoolfriend Tommy Traddles who doodled skeletons.

      3. ImprovForCats*

        Heh at doodling while noodling. . .I have a lot of sleep issues related to other medical problems, and on days like today (2 hours of sleep total last night!) doodling is a much better guard against the chance of nodding off for a few minutes than sitting perfectly still with my eyes focused straight ahead would be.

  35. moss*

    OP #1, in my industry we have to sign off on certain things or we are not in compliance. I can totally picture a situation in which the burden of signing may be heavy but necessary. The way they handle it in my company is that if you are not in compliance, you are not eligible for the yearly merit increase (so, no signing, no raise).

    I have had HR stop by my desk before, small company and I had signed incorrectly. It was pleasant and relatively painless. If your employee is being squirrelly about signing things, I think you should make her aware of, and enforce, penalties for non-compliance. (If you have the power to do so, of course.)

    I disagree with Alison that you are overly burdening your employee with signature requirements. In some fields, that’s just part of the game. If your employee is not playing by the rules of the game, she should be held accountable. In some industries this could mean serious problems for your entire organization, depending on who she is and what she’s not signing. Be firmer.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      I used to work in compliance in a heavily regulated industry so I sympathize with both sides. It sucks when someone just refuses to cooperate. But it’s also your responsibility to make it easy for your colleagues, like having the option to e-sign. (Also, since the OP says she works in HR and not compliance, I’m not sure if regulatory affairs are applicable here. But that could depend on the industry.)

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      I worked in a pretty well regulated industry and had annual returns to sign the firm were militant about it and you’d find your computer access taken off you if you didn’t find time to finalise the paper work, but they gave you a whole month to sign what was needed.

    3. Brett*

      We have the same thing for our industry.

      I just checked, and we have 206 legally mandated policies that every employee must sign off on every year. (And about 20 of them have tests you have to pass after reading the policy). Having even one employee off signatures for 30 days can get our entire accreditation revoked.

      Of course, we have a policy acknowledgement system that automates all of this through notification emails and digital signatures. (And automatically sends a report up your chain of command every Monday if you have unsigned policies.)

  36. Ad Astra*

    A general note on defensiveness: People who have issues like ADHD and learning disabilities often grow up being told they’re not smart, or that they’re not trying hard enough, or that they’re just plain “bad.” For me, at least, my defensiveness became a knee-jerk reaction any time a superior expressed frustration because the fear of confirming that I am indeed stupid, lazy, and ill behaved is overwhelming. It didn’t matter whether “No one went over this with me” was true; I was just buying some time to think. Eventually I realized this was doing me more harm than good, but it’s a difficult habit to change.

    I have no idea if this employee has ADHD or a learning disability or whatever, but if she routinely has problems like what the OP’s describing, it’s very possible she’s received the same negative messages growing up. Obviously, if this employee isn’t getting the work done, something needs to change. But I do urge OP to try to be patient about this employee’s defensiveness and focus on the actual performance issues.

    1. Allison*

      Yes, so much this. I’ve had to train myself to tone down the defensiveness at work, and it usually involves taking a second to breathe before saying “yeah, I messed up, sorry about that!” or “oh crap, you’re right, I usually remember but I dropped the ball this time” and assuring the person I’ll try to do better going forward. Or, if it wasn’t a mistake and an intentional deviation from the usual process I’d explain why, as calmly as possible.

      I actually often have the opposite problem, I generally do know what I’m doing but I’m human and I make mistakes, but when I do people assume it’s because I’m a bimbo who can’t remember/follow directions and they need to re-explain it to me in great detail, so my defensiveness is usually me explaining that yes, I actually do know how to do the thing, I just messed up once, and they don’t need to spend 15 minutes rehashing the schpiel they gave me last week. But they do anyway.

      1. Cactus*

        I generally do know what I’m doing but I’m human and I make mistakes, but when I do people assume it’s because I’m a bimbo who can’t remember/follow directions and they need to re-explain it to me in great detail, so my defensiveness is usually me explaining that yes, I actually do know how to do the thing

        I hate that.
        Even more than that, I hate when someone “reminds” me about how to do something that I haven’t even fucked up, because I haven’t even had a chance to, because the task isn’t done yet (and I’m also not late with it). I…don’t have a lot of good words for people who routinely engage in this.

      1. Cactus*

        Mine certainly is. I’m working to break myself of it, but sometimes things just compound. Yesterday I made an annoying mistake, got told off for it, and spent the next hour or so absolutely hating myself and everything about my job. I used to be able to deal with these things, but about 3 years ago I had a couple of abusive, mercurial bosses whose misleading ad hoc instructions and accusatory reprimands kind of scarred me, so now little things feel bigger than they otherwise might.

    2. PontoonPirate*

      This is also true if you have an issue like ADHD and you grew up with a fixed mindset … you’re told you are smart, capable, talented … until that time you fail, and then what? If you were really smart, you wouldn’t have failed. You must not be all that smart, right? And since being smart is a core function of what makes you you, then not being smart = bad. And if that’s true, then you must be bad too, right?

      I’m also a recovering superdefensive person. For me, my automatic defensiveness was to protect against the overwhelming fear that “they” are right –that I am lazy, untalented and driftless and therefore a bad person as well.

      Obviously, this isn’t healthy –for me or for this employee, if she’s having the same auto-response. And it doesn’t mean you don’t get to feel frustrated or fed up. I wish I could tell you I had an easy solution that didn’t end in termination, but I do want to commiserate with both sides.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Ah, this is so relatable! I’ve “improved” (I guess?) my problem with defensiveness by generally talking less in Very Serious Meetings. I focus on listening and understanding the issue at hand, and when I finally do speak I have more time to consider my response. It takes all the restraint I have, and it’s not very satisfying because I end up stewing silently about all the things I wanted to say that I didn’t have an opportunity to say. But it’s better than talking myself into a ditch.

      2. Jaydee*

        Yes. So many times yes. Mindsets was one of the best books I’ve read since I was diagnosed with ADHD. I am finally reconciling the fact that I am really smart with the fact that I am really disorganized, forgetful, easily distracted, etc. They are not mutually exclusive, nor do they define my worth or value as a person. I don’t have to hide or ignore my struggles or pretend they don’t exist to prove that I really am smart. Nor are they some fixed quality that I cannot change or improve.

    3. fposte*

      I get what you’re saying, but defensiveness can be an actual performance issue. It means an employee is making feedback difficult, and that’s a problem. So I would probably talk to her about that as well.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Oh, it definitely can be its own performance issue, and I think in this case OP would be wise to discuss this defensiveness with the employee. If this employee wants to stick around, she’s going to need to tone down that defensiveness, but it takes a long time and lot of work to eradicate it completely. There is, in my experience, a weird transition period where defensive people are still able to take feedback to heart, despite the reflexive “It’s not my fault!”

        So, like a lot of management issues, it’s really going to come down to the severity of the behavior and its impact on the work.

  37. AW*

    LW#2 – Is there any kind of official documentation on how to do any of these tasks? A training manual? Something on the company intranet? If, for example, sending something via UPS requires a corporate code or going to a specific web site, is that something the LW can look up?

    If not, it would be really good if your company can put something like that together so that new employees have something to reference. At one of my previous jobs our department created a wiki that contained all of our standard operating procedures and it was SO HELPFUL. No more hunting down the most recent email you got regarding task X and hoping it was still accurate. The wiki meant that the most recent version was always in the same place, it was well organized and searchable, and you didn’t have to ask people how to do something simple if you forgot it.

    That’s more of a longer term solution but should help prevent/mitigate similar situations in the future.

  38. HRish Dude*

    I’m going to slightly disagree with Alison on the first one.

    Sometimes paperwork does take priority

    If everyone is required to electronically sign a document which has to be reported back to a government authority and we get fined for every non-signature and one person is dragging their feet, their failure to sign affects the entire company. I use that as an example because it’s the one that usually causes the most problems (in addition to, “I already signed it – you must have lost it” which doesn’t really fly when the forms are electronic).

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Agreed. I work in a highly regulated industry and there are many times where we just can’t say we’re too busy to sign something. And being a highly regulated industry, there are many processes which require signatures to show that we reviewed something and the absence of that signature basically implies no one reviewed it; if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.

      1. Nom d' Pixel*

        I am in an identical situation. There are times when work literally stops because something has to be signed.

  39. Erin*

    #2 – How your rapport is with your manager will dictate how candid you are in this conversation you’re inevitably going to have to have.

    Thinking of my own managers, I can think of one where I would have been able to be brutally honest: “I have explained multiple times to Imogene how to put together shipments and print out UPS labels. She doesn’t do it right, won’t accept my help, and gets defensive when I try to remind her of the procedure. I could give a million examples like this – I need help on how to guide her because work isn’t getting done.”

    On the other hand, I’ve had more formal relationships with managers where I wouldn’t have been able to be so candid, and if this is the case with you, I would focus on the facts rather than speculation, emphasize how this is affecting productivity, and be specific in your examples. Phrases like “she’s defensive” could sound vague or whiny – ditto for the social awkwardness (which your manager is likely to pick up on on her own anyway).

    In this case, I would say something like, “Yesterday Imogene was unable to complete the shipments I needed her to. I have explained the procedure via email, and I tacked step-by-step instructions for her at her cube, and she still did not complete the task. I offered to help her with it, but she said she didn’t need help. These shipments did not go out, and now Client X is emailing me to ask why. Can you give me some guidance on how I should handle this in the future?”

    Or, third option, a variation of the above with more examples. “I need to speak with you about Imogene. I have given her instructions and otherwise offered my help, but she has not completed tasks recently, or not completed them in time. For example…”

    Those are just some suggestions because again, you’ll have to let your relationship with your manager guide you in this one. But as others have alluded to I’d focus on the work tasks aspect of it, and leave out the possible learning disability.

  40. Swarley*


    Wow. I don’t even know where to start… But as an HR person who spent years dealing with the Form I-9, I’ll keep my focus on that part.

    1. The reason for the ID request was probably relating to the Form I-9. An employee must complete Section 1 on or before the first day of work, and section 2 within the first three days of employment.
    2. Also, an employer may not specify which forms of ID are required, only provide a list of acceptable documents; the employee may choose which items to present. In your case a passport would suffice to establish both ID and work authorization, assuming it was un expired.
    3. The documents have to appear authentic to a reasonable person (not a trained ID checker), so unless your documents looked obviously forged there was no reason to require additional items.
    4. Asking to email that information was not only inappropriate, but also pointless, as you have to physically present your ID to the person completing the form, or another authorized representative.

    This crap really gets under my skin and gives HR a poor reputation. I would seriously consider raising a stink with the HR director about this. Or even an anonymous call to USCIS because this is actually illegal/unethical.

    1. Swarley*

      Also, you definitely can’t withhold someone’s paycheck for not completing the I-9. You can (are supposed) to terminate employment if the form is not completed properly within the allotted timeframe, however, you’d still be required to pay an employee for any time they already worked.

        1. Swarley*

          Possibly. I don’t believe the I-9 rules give leeway as to why a form may not have been completed on time. In any case I’ve only worked for one employer that actually followed this to the letter. And we wouldn’t terminate employment permanently, but rather terminate employment within our personnel system. The person was given a new start date and not allowed to come in and start work until the form was completed properly.

          *In the event that the person did any sort of work before completing the I-9, we ensured that they were paid for that time.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            No idea what the law is in the USA, but if an employee had proof they tried and made appointments to do it and it was the company’s fault, that’s wrongful dismissal here, especially if there’s evidence this is because of race or sexuality (eg if this wasn’t a problem for heterosexual staff)

        2. fposte*

          Probably not, because “wrongful termination” means “fired for reasons forbidden by law,” though, not just “fired for something that was the org’s fault.” Unless it’s related to the same-sex marriage and this is in a place where sexual orientation is protected, it’s not discriminatory.

  41. Manders*

    OP #2, wow, I guess I know where my former coworker ended up! She acted exactly like this, down to the weird issues with conversations and claiming she had never heard information I had written down for her several times. She would sometimes get better for a little while if she was aware that her job was in danger, but she would eventually backslide into her old ways.

    People who behave this way have often developed something called learned helplessness: they’ve discovered in past jobs or in school that if they flounder for long enough, eventually someone will come along to do their work for them. There are a lot of potential causes for this behavior, and it’s not something you can diagnose or compensate for as her trainer.

    What I wish I’d done with my former coworker:
    1) Made sure my boss was in the loop IMMEDIATELY
    2) Had her write everything down and refer to her back to her own notes when she asked how to do simple task X for the 20th time. I should have also asked her questions like, “What do you think you should do here?” and “What have you already tried to fix this problem?”
    3) Not always been so available for questions–instead of letting her interrupt my own work, I should have told her I needed to finish what I was doing first and then I would answer her questions
    4) Accepted that there are some people I can’t train and that her failure wasn’t a reflection on me, instead of continuing to train her long past the point that it was clear she shouldn’t be doing this job

    1. Manders*

      Oops, I made a mistake and now I can’t go back and edit it–I think that learned helplessness is not the correct term. I’m pretty sure there is a term for this, but I can’t recall it now.

    2. Erin*


      This all makes sense – I especially like having her write down her own notes, instead of giving her yours. Obviously she could type it out too, but writing things out by hand can often help you actually remember the stuff. (I often write myself reminder notes, and then find I don’t need to actually look at the note because I remember what I wrote in it.)

    3. The Other CrazyCatLady*

      3) I did this once to someone who had constant questions about the same things. When I was free a few minutes later, I went to check in with him and found him literally twiddling his thumbs, waiting for me. He was astonished when I suggested that if he had questions that meant A couldn’t be done immediately, he should move on to B in the meantime. It was the equivalent of being told he didn’t know it was possible to have two of the same file types open at the same time. Then again, he also didn’t know it was possible to have two tabs open in a browser.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      I have had a coworker who did exactly this, and in her case it wasn’t laziness but severe lack of confidence. (It certainly can be laziness–the stereotypical ‘oh if I burn her blouse she won’t ask me to do the ironing again!’ thing–but it can be a lot of things, and as you say, the reason behind it isn’t even necessarily that important.) In her case, she was entirely capable of doing the work, but she didn’t trust herself, so she asked for help every time because it was reassuring to her to have someone hold her hand/watch over her as she did the tasks. And since “I forgot how to do it” was easier for her to admit than “I remember how to do it but I’m scared I’m going to fail,” that was how it came out.

      Your processes were exactly what I had to do: I timeboxed when I was available for questions (so instead of dropping everything to help her, I’d say, “I’m working on X now, let me get back to you” and then deal with all of it in one fell swoop). Sometimes, if she couldn’t get my help right away, she’d muddle through on her own (and 95% of the time do a perfectly fine job). Once I did have time to help her, I asked leading questions like “What do you think you should do next?” instead of handholding her through all the steps.

      In her case, I was lucky: after a few rounds of “What do I do next?” / “What do you think you should do next? What do your notes say?” / “Oh, I need to update and then commit, and put in a log message.” / “Yep, that’s exactly right,” she got a lot better. Since in her case it was a confidence issue, once she saw that she could do it a few times, her requests for more help tapered way off.

      But if she hadn’t gotten better, since my manager knew what was going on, and since I’d timeboxed her requests rather than stopping to help her all day long, it still would have minimized the impact on me.

  42. Sigrid*

    OP#3, I don’t have anything to add to the comments about, I just wanted to say that your HR person is a loon and I really, really hope that you get a positive response from management when you report her. Please update us when things happen! I’m wishing you well.

  43. lp*

    #2 sounds exactly like me. She likely has depression and anxiety. Depression can often manifest itself in memory problems, and the inability to function normally in social situations and needing reassurance about procedures reflects anxiety to me.

    Just tell her to refer to the email sent on x day for instructions, and ask her not to interrupt when she does it. I’ve had someone talk down to me like this before, and it made me feel less confident that I was getting the hang of the job. Reassure her that she has the tools she needs at her fingertips and that she is capable.

  44. Student*

    #1 Please, please accept electronic signatures on your documents. It makes signing things so much faster and easier, especially if paperwork otherwise needs to travel a long distance.

  45. Nom d' Pixel*

    The situation in #2 sounds like someone I worked with until very recently. He would not listen to instructions, was unbelievably slow and disorganized, constantly interrupted people, and became angry whenever he was held accountable for things. I and his other trainer felt like we were banging our heads against a wall.

    I was surprised when our boss, who is normally very discreet, said that he thought the guy had some kind of mental problem. However, he did say that we weren’t physicians and it wasn’t our place to diagnose or fix the employee. All we could do was try our best to train the guy, and to document any problems and let him know when the trainee became angry or disrespectful or behaved in a disruptive manner. (The boss has no tolerance for people not treating others with respect). He was right.

  46. VTAdvocate*

    On Op 2

    I will put out a little warning out there- being someone with a disability and who knows workplace laws- if there is a disability issue instead of just a work-related issue there needs to be reasonable accommodations made unless the task expected is necessary for the job to be complete and there is no other reasonable away around it. As one of my mentors, who is a quite older man with Ceberal Palsy, as stated at the hospital he works at as a chaplain if he applied to be a mail / package handler and one of the requirements of the job was carrying up to 50 pounds they would have the legal right NOT to hire him because it is a requirement, a necessary part of the job, and he does know he can’t carry up to 50 pounds.

    However in this case it also sounds like the individual in question may not feel comfortable coming out right now because there is a stigma around hiring individuals with disabilities and the job field is very limited to those with disabilities. Not because there isn’t jobs out there but because of an unfortunate bias around this.

    Employees who are the trainer etc. also don’t necessarily have the right to be forewarned beforehand. It’s a legal issue.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      My understanding is that while you don’t have to disclose the reason for the accommodation you need, though, you do need to disclose that you need an accommodation. So if at my workplace it would be reasonable for me to not pick up heavy packages from the mailroom (not a necessary part of the job, but something that is often asked of us ad-hoc as a helping-out thing) because of my bad back, I wouldn’t have to explain exactly what my disability was, but I couldn’t just start neglecting to do it without explaining that I need an accommodation.

      As someone who deals with mental health issues, I’m sympathetic to the stigma, but if she needs accommodation my understanding is that she needs to say so–and her manager needs to convey the nature of the accommodation, though, again, not her reason for it to the trainers. Insisting that she hasn’t gotten training that she has isn’t the same as asking for an accommodation, by a long shot.

    2. LQ*

      I do believe that they have to tell the trainer what they need to do.

      You can’t just expect someone to make all materials available in photo format if you’ve never told the trainer to do that. That’s extraordinary harmful to both parties. The trainer will get frustrated and will say the person isn’t performing. The new person will be trying but if they never ask for photos rather than written instructions or they never tell their boss to ask for that how on earth are they going to be able to be successful at the job.

      The trainer doesn’t need to be told make photo instructions because Wakeen can’t read. But they do need to be told to make photo instructions.

    3. fposte*

      What there has to be is an interactive process to decide what a reasonable accommodation is–it could be that what the employee considers to be reasonable the employer doesn’t, and vice versa. And, of course, the employee has to disclose for that to be relevant, and the OP has neither been disclosed to nor instructed about accommodation, so unfortunately the law can’t help the co-worker.

  47. My Blue Valentine*

    Regarding #2. We have a very awkward situation at work that bears some similarity to #2. One of the top brass at this institution (a college) insisted we hire his son in our department. The son cannot handle even very basic tasks. He has trouble with alphabetizing files, can’t remember basic procedures, asks questions about things he learned on the job two years ago that he should know the answers to, forgets where we keep things like keys. I could go on but I won’t. There is a rumor going around that he is mentally ill with an incurable illness that can be controlled by medication. The medication for this condition makes a person very, well, dopey. But we don’t even know if this is true, or if he is autistic, or just plain stupid.

    It’s very annoying because now my boss no longer wants to hear about any issues with this character. When I told him Wakeen was misfiling stuff, he responded with, “Well, he’s been here two years, and if he hasn’t gotten it by now…” He has also befriended Wakeen and has personal conversations with him. This, after spending the first part of Wakeen’s tenure here telling us he wished Wakeen would go work in the janitorial department and other mean stuff like that.

    I have given up on the whole situation because as long as Wakeen’s dad is in the administration here, we’re stuck with his son. I’m looking for another position.

  48. ivy*

    For #3, are we sure the OP is in the US? If she is, yes, ridiculous and illegal, but if she’s elsewhere, might the rules or customs around this be different?

    1. Elsajeni*

      I think the phrasing “social security number/card” is unique to the US (versus “social insurance number,” “national insurance number,” etc.), so that suggests she’s located here. But even if she isn’t, I think the only thing that changes is the potential illegality of asking for extra documentation — the weirdness and rudeness of no-showing on appointments and treating your new hires like criminal suspects are universal.

  49. NicoleK*

    OP#2. For managers and employers: If there is someone at your organization who is struggling like OP’s coworker, do something about it. Don’t ignore it and hope that it goes away. Otherwise it will cause unnecessary additional stress to the rest of your team and organization and great employees will go elsewhere.

    1. Willow*

      What if you can’t because 1. They are a minority and 2. Your boss is clearly either protecting them or refuses to see any problems because he is not there? Talking does not help when you are the only witness and they can say you’re prejudiced. It’s been over a year and my #2 is still confused on basic job duties. Evidence has been sent to boss and nothing has been done. Repeatedly.

      1. Willow*

        Documentation has been also written in great detail with screen shots. However, I have witnessed my #2 having basic literacy issues, repeatedly. Pointed out to boss. Boss’s only response was to send him more things to get reading practice. Um…people are supposed to know how to read after getting through high school. Coworker has a degree from another country. English is the official language there, and no it isn’t the UK, Canada, or Australia. Me sending him more emails won’t remedy what he should have learned in school.

  50. Adler*

    When I worked for a library, I had a part-time coworker who plainly had some kind of cognitive disorder. She showed up on time, neatly-dressed, and was nice, but the staff noticed that she could not hold up her end of a casual conversation, and more importantly, could not handle the most simple tasks. The most complicated tasks she had to do was moving books on a cart and shelving them in order by call number. (Often, it was as simple as moving books from one shelf to another, so not even sorting was required.) She was totally incapable of this and shelved books in random order, so that it took a coworker and I hours to undo her work. It was the clearest case I’ve ever seen of an employee being a liability and not an asset–she did no productive work at all and every hour she was there added to an existing employee’s workload. She was there after I left, and I don’t believe they ever found anything for her to do.

    There’s no mystery as to why she was employed–her mother was a professor and demanded that her daughter be given a summer job. This is supposed to be impossible in a system with as much hiring bureaucracy as a university library, but it happened. When she showed up for her first day of work, we learned that she couldn’t start working yet, because she hadn’t completed the hiring process–in fact, she had never started it. She hadn’t even filled out a job application.

    I later learned from another coworker that the young woman has since graduated college and is married with children. He believes firmly that her mother did all of her college course work.

  51. Hazel Asperg*

    I have similar difficulties to the person in #2, and thankfully I have figured out some workarounds:
    – Making notes on everything, digital and hard-copy, in multiple places if necessary
    – Writing clear records of what I’ve done every day (so I can track my progress and better remember daily events)
    – Writing more notes (so many notes)
    – Writing guidelines on how to do each part of my job (I was the first person in this role, so I needed to do it myself)
    – Organising and adding to my folder of ‘How To Do My Job’ (“HAZEL’S HOW-TO”) so it will be easier to train the next person, and so I can easily refer to my notes and not have to interrupt my colleagues when I’ve forgotten something again.

    If it’s possible, and you felt up to it, I might suggest dropping one of these into conversation, as in, “Oh gosh – it’s so stressful trying to remember [x]; I don’t know what I’d do without [my notebook/Excel/OneNote/whatever]!”

    Also, I know when I started out in the workplace I kind of thought I had to memorise everything in order to be good at it (since this is the style of learning most celebrated and promoted through the education system: memorise and regurgitate), so it was a relief to realise that I could take copious notes and still be good at my job. Well, better at my job, since I wasn’t having to half-remember loads of things and defensively lie about stuff.

    1. Cactus*

      Yeah, note-taking about various processes, keeping lists of what needs to happen when, reminders of what tasks I have on my plate: those are so hugely helpful. My first job out of college (not my first job ever, but…) did not allow for this. It wasn’t that it was forbidden, but no one did it, there was nowhere to store that kind of info so it would be easily accessible, etc. So forgetfulness happened. I took to writing important reminders on my hands, which didn’t look great, but at least nothing horrific happened.

  52. Willow*

    I have been dealing with a male version of #2,for over a year. He is in a protected class and my boss won’t do anything about him. Good luck; maybe yours will not be like mine.

    On the bright side, we get a new CEO next year. I am hoping it will lead to a reorg that will lead to my coworker going away or me going to another dept.

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