update: my coworker constantly misses work and I have to do her job for her

Remember the letter-writer a couple of weeks ago who had to constantly cover for a coworker was missing a lot of work? Here’s the update.

I very nervously had a chat with my boss, Jack. To my surprise, he agreed mostly with my assessment of the situation. While he had not been aware of how much strain I felt I was under, he agreed it was not sustainable. We sat and discussed what I could be expected to take on.

For the upcoming break, he asked if I could cover three specialized tasks during the two weeks she was away. He assigned all her other work, including doing some tasks himself. He agreed that she cannot be allowed to interrupt my work to catch her back up. Jack suggested I can take 15 minutes to brief Cecilia on changes when she returns, but I should not feel obligated to handhold her through the first days back. He explained that while he is not allowed to disclose HR discussions, he is exploring different options urgently. We also talked about what my particular signals for stress are and how I can check in casually (I don’t normally go to his office like other employees). I also found out I’ve been nominated for a company award and I will be receiving a raise!

As a lot of you said, my goodwill bank had run into a deficit. It seems Cecilia is unhappy; she has made several passing remarks that “X hasn’t been taken care of,” “normally when I come back, Y isn’t a problem,” and my personal favorite, “did you take off time too?”

But I am happy, well-rested, better focused, and that means a lot.

Me again. I’m really glad your conversation with Jack went so well and that this is being handled. (And it sounds like there’s more going on behind the scenes, too.) I don’t know how you’re responding to those comments from Cecilia, but I’d strongly suggest responding with, “I talked with Jack about how my workload doesn’t allow me to step in for you the way I used to. You should talk with him about the plan for covering for you when you’re away.”

{ 88 comments… read them below }

    1. Kali*

      Over a year later, but I just read this post, and that is such a diplomatic way of saying the thing I was thinking!

  1. Shell*

    I would honestly have a hard time replying to Cecilia with “I was working at my job, like you should be with yours.”

    Yes, she may have things going on in her personal life to take off this much time from work. But Cecilia’s snarky comments is not the way to build goodwill with the coworkers who have been picking up her slack.

    This is why OP should listen to Alison and not me.

    1. Adam V*

      Yeah, I’d find it very, very hard not to be extremely snarky right back to her.

      > “did you take off time too?”

      “Yep – those three specialized tasks Jack assigned to me just handled themselves while you were gone.”

      > “normally when I come back, Y isn’t a problem”

      “And Y won’t be a problem now that you’re here to take care of it.”

      > “X hasn’t been taken care of”

      “I guess I know what you’re working on then!”

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Oh, I totally agree with you! I don’t know to this day how I managed not to reply the third to my own Cecilia, who returned from four months of sick leave without any form of cover beyond “Oh, EvilQueenRegina can cope”, and while I had personal problems with seriously ill family members, made a comment about “That uploading tray is beyond a joke!”

        I left the room, which may have been the more professional way of handling it. But I kind of wish now I had said “Well, I guess I know what you’re working on then”.

          1. Anna*

            That’s my today. Although I will admit I stuck my tongue out at the phone and made faces while I was listening to the completely reasonable person (no sarcasm, she had every right to ask me about the thing we were discussing) on the other end. I just didn’t want to deal with the issue. :)

      2. Chalupa Batman*

        I totally feel like any of those statements could be an appropriate response.

        I might be a snarky person. I get away with it because I smile a lot.

      3. Creag an Tuire*

        It’s a pity we don’t use real names, because otherwise I’d be tempted to use “I’m afraid, Cecelia, I’m not your satellite.”

    2. OhNo*

      Seriously, it sounds like Cecilia got a little to used to having her job just done for her while she was away. Personally, I like your comeback better, but in the interests of professionalism OP should probably follow Alison’s lead on what to say.

      But OP, you absolutely should say something. First of all, because Cecilia needs to know that she has been asking too much of you so she can self-correct. Secondly, because you need to reinforce your boundaries with her. Thirdly, because there is a chance she will go to someone up the chain (who maybe hasn’t been read into the issues you and your manager discussed) and complain about how your quality of work or productivity has been slipping significantly. Nip that in the bud before it becomes a problem.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      I don’t know that she’s being purposely snarky or is just that clueless as to the impact she’s having. Sounds like boss is about to clue her in.

      1. Artemesia*

        I hope we get another update, because it feels to me like boss is just jawboning and not acting. Hope I am wrong but one way to keep abusing a good employee like the OP is to tell them you are sympathetic and are working on it. If they don’t fix it in reasonable time or the promotions etc don’t compensate, keep an eye peeled for something better.

        1. Letter Writer*

          I will try for a second one in a few months. It seems to me like she’s been reprimanded pretty sharply. She started up with snarky comments after her chat with Jack so I think she knows I complained but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m also not the only person who has issues with her.

          1. Artemesia*

            If her response to being managed is snark aimed at the people she is abusing — well how effectively is she being managed?

            1. Letter Writer*

              Even in the comments there’s a lot of “are you sure you’re not taking this the wrong way?” I’ll lay it all out and say she projects the facade of being a harmless old lady well enough it is difficult to pinpoint when she’s being the worst because even you think you must be overreacting. If I were to report it to my boss and she started crying about a misunderstanding, I’m very sure I know who would look bad. I got what I wanted; her personality issues are something else entirely.

    4. hbc*

      My sarcasm dial goes to eleven in situations like this. “You’re right, I dropped the ball. How about you spend next week doing both of our jobs so you can show me where I went wrong?”

    5. A Bug!*

      “Actually, X and Y have always been a problem when you go away; you’re just seeing that now because me doing two jobs for weeks at a time was burning me out. So now I take care of A, B, and C while you’re gone, and the rest gets distributed elsewhere. And you know, when you go away, your full-time workload has to be handled by people who already have full-time workloads of their own. And it’s really demotivating that the only thing you ever have to say about that is that it wasn’t done well enough.”

      1. Shell*

        This is also far better than my script. But if I was in OP’s position, I’d have a hard time saying all that coolly and professionally without going into a “bitch, please” voice and tone.

        Y’all are much better people than me.

        1. A Bug!*

          Not a better person in the slightest! I absolutely didn’t mean to imply anything about your character or compare it to mine, but I see now that it could easily come across as a finger-waggle. I just wanted to try to come up with a “productive” script since “honest” had been competently covered already. I had the benefit of an emotionally-detached perspective and time to consider things carefully.

          I am confident that my actual response would be more along the lines of a stunned silence followed by “Are you kidding me?” Perhaps with an expletive for emphasis.

          1. Shell*

            Oh geez, I didn’t take offense at all! I meant “better person” as more thoughtful, measured, and compassionate. I am a cynic, so I think most of the AAM commentariat are better people than me. It gives me something to work towards in my less-cynical moments :)

            1. Letter Writer*

              I pretend I don’t hear anything and then call my mother and swear in another language. Better folks abound here.

            2. A Bug!*

              Haha, we’re kindred spirits. I write comments like those in hopes that it might have a positive effect on my immediate reactions, which are, well, less charitable. Fake it till you make it, the wolf you feed, etc etc barf.

  2. CMT*

    Wow, I can’t believe she’s making those comments! Your handling of this situation has sounded so mature and professional and I am very glad you’re getting a raise! I’m also glad your boss seems receptive to fixing this problem. Kudos to you, OP.

    1. Rahera*

      I second this! Well done, OP, so pleased for you and so glad you are feeling more rested, and validated :).

  3. Jerzy*

    I have some medical issues, and whenever those (or just a slip of the mind) cause one of my coworkers to have to do additional work, I am extremely grateful, and I try to express it, both overtly and just in how I treat them overall. The way Cecilia is acting shows a real lack of appreciation, both for the hard work you have had to put in to cover for her, and for the break your boss has been giving her with all of her time off. That kind of entitled attitude does not get you very far with most people, regardless of the personal issues that may be going on.

    Good for you, OP in handling this so well, and congrats on that raise!

    1. Adam*

      Yes. In the original message I tried to give Cecilia the benefit of the doubt as it didn’t seem anything was really wrong and while no one really likes having to cover other people’s jobs we all have to do it sometimes. And while Cecilia may have been taking an unusual amount of time off her company did approve it and she may have really needed it.

      But her co-workers lives don’t grind to halt just because she isn’t there. She may have an inflated sense of self-importance if she gets indignant that her job hasn’t kept 100% on pace while she’s out so much.

    1. AW*

      I’ll see your Clue reference and raise you a Dragonball Z Abridged reference (paraphrased):

      “I’m going to [scream in your face] now. I don’t know when I’m going to stop.”

    2. Kassy*

      Cheerfully” “Nope, I’ve just been (List all job duties here, including the three you took on while she was out.)!”

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    My response options for you.

    *  “X hasn’t been taken care of,” 

    “Nope doesn’t look like it has.”
    “I guess not.”

    *  “normally when I come back, Y isn’t a problem,”

    “It appears to be now.”
    “I guess it is now.”

    *  “did you take off time too?”

    “Nope.  I was doing my job as usual.”

    If there’s something she wants to say, then she needs to say it.  Until she does, none of this is worth responding to substantively.  

    1. A Cita*

      For the first, I’d respond:

      “Of course not. You were out.”
      And then look genuinely puzzled because it’s so obvious while walking away.

      1. baseballfan*

        We have a winner.

        Seriously, these passive-aggressive comments from Cecelia? Totally uncalled for anytime and especially when others have helped to take up slack for a person who is out of the office a lot.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          If the goodwill bank weren’t already in overdraft, these comments would do the trick.

  5. Lily in NYC*

    Thank you for updating! I’m glad things are better and that you set boundaries (and that your boss was understanding). I wouldn’t be surprised if she is going to be gently forced to retire.

  6. Chicken*

    I’m so glad the conversation with your boss went well – sounds like he totally gets it and will have your back. Yay!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, it sounds like the manager really is great and just needed to know how terribly the situation was impacting the OP. What a wonderful update!

  7. Liz L*

    Urgent discussions with HR sounds grim for Cecilia (what a B!). Congratulations on the raise and thank you for the update!

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      And what a predicament really, because it’s kind of hard to fire someone with medical issues without looking like you did something discriminatory or retaliatory or whatever you’d call it. Hopefully they’re documenting her attitude-y remarks she’s making to coworkers and anything else they can to build a case or perhaps they can offer her early retirement? Not sure how that works.

      1. INTP*

        Maybe I’m reading incorrectly, but I thought it was Cecelia’s mother (who maybe lives out of the country?) who has the medical issues. She might still qualify for FMLA, though, so the company couldn’t flat-out forbid it, but the trips might become shorter and less frequent if they don’t pay her during them.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Oops you’re right guess I was seeing so much red I neglected to remember that detail.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          If I remember, the OP is in Canada, so it’s not FLMA, and Cecelia was taking both family illness/care related leave *and* regular fun vacation time.

          There are a couple types of family leave in Canada that are run through the unemployment insurance system – they are taken in at least 1 week chunks, and the employer is not paying the employee a salary during that period (making hiring a temp easier). The employee is paid at partial earnings. In addition, there is job protection for (unpaid, but with benefits) sick leave up to 17 weeks. There may be other job specific provisions though – the above is the legal minimum.

  8. The Toxic Avenger*

    When I read the original letter and comments, there were a lot of people – the letter writer included – willing to give Cecilia the benefit of the doubt. All my (admittedly dubious) sympathies have been vaporized like they got nuked from orbit. OP – you handled this – and continue to handle it – with grace and composure. I’m glad your manager has your back.

  9. Former Retail Manager*

    This woman sounds like a piece of work. And health issues, personal issues, or whatever….is not an excuse to be a
    &%*$# to your co-worker who is busting ass to keep the ship afloat by doing some of your work. I have all the sympathy in the world for people in tough situations, whatever they may be, but as soon as you start acting entitled and ungrateful, all bets are off. Glad the outcome for OP is mostly positive. Sounds like based on what the boss said, the co-worker will be gone as soon as they are able.

  10. INTP*

    This is absolutely in no way the OP’s problem, but after the OP’s conversation with her boss, I do think Cecelia should have been given a heads up that things would be changing regarding how her time off is covered. I could see being annoyed if there was a major shift in how my absences were handled and no one told me until I returned from one. Her manager should have been responsible for doing it, though, and she shouldn’t be rude to the OP about it. But since the manager might not have done so, I strongly agree with Alison’s wording the next time Cecelia says something snarky, just to give her a heads up about why things changed and that they will continue, since she might have no idea what is going on.

  11. some1*

    Wait, did your boss or someone TELL Cecilia you would not be covering all of her work anymore when she’s out? If not, I think it’s reasonable to *ask* you why something wasn’t done. Politely, of course.

    1. Cordeli*

      Yeah, I’m hoping that Cecilia was just surprised and confused by the way her coverage was handled differently this time and just expressed herself really, really badly. I can see the “Did you take time off too” comment just being tone-deaf, not entitled and snarky. (Even though it really sounds that way. Sheesh!)

      1. neverjaunty*

        Good gog-a-mighty. Yes, it’s important to try and give people the benefit of the doubt a lot of the time, but we’re now crossing over into the territory of the ridiculous.

    2. Letter Writer*

      She had a meeting with Jack upon returning. She has not asked me because she is more than a little passive aggressive and this is generally her attitude to issues. She knows Jack will not tolerate her nonsense so she will take things out on me.

      1. TootsNYC*

        In which case, every time, I’d say, “Oh, I’m following Jack’s orders.” “Jack said we should do this that way.”
        “Jack….” “Jack…” “Jack…”

        “Did you want to ask Jack about that? You could probably get in to see him pretty soon.”

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          “Jack, Jack, Jack! Head in a sack! Your employees are awful… This may soon become unlawful.”

  12. Justcourt*


    I’ve had some co-workers with unrealistic expectations about my ability to cover their workload during a vacation or leave, but I can’t imagine someone ever saying the things Cecilia did.

    Big props to the OP for having the patience and skills to cover for this woman and deal with her behavior.

  13. Michelle*

    Sound like Cecilia had gotten used to you doing her job for her and when she was expected to be an adult and actually do the job she was getting paid for got upset. Bless her heart.

  14. TootsNYC*

    I’d skip the “I was talking with Jack,” and instead say something like, “Jack reassigned the duties, since I my workload doesn’t allow me to cover for you like I used to.”

    No sense in letting it sound like you’re saying, “I complained” or “I tattled.”

    It’s on Jack–he made this decision, so point to his authority.

  15. West of the Mississippi*

    This sounds so rough, OP! I’m glad your boss and HR (eventually) have your back. In the mean time, you might need to find the truest, least snarky, “nice” short response you can manage. “I’m glad you’re back, I simply can’t cover everything we both do!” “Nope, I didn’t get to everything.” “It certainly has been busy.” “Looks like there’s a lot to get done!” All delivered with your best “talking about the weather” tone of voice, and followed with a quick end to the conversation, silence, and/or disappearing to your desk. Best of luck in not snarking with your fellow coworkers and keeping it as light as you can until HR follows up with her.

  16. Letter Writer*

    Also a big thank you to all of you in the comment section. My mother was tired of me yammering her ear off about Cecilia once a week so it’s nice to have good advice and company.

  17. animaniactoo*

    “X hasn’t been taken care of,”
    “Yes, Jack felt that you would be able to take care of it when you got back since my workload won’t allow me to keep covering for you at the level that I have before.”

    “normally when I come back, Y isn’t a problem,”
    “Yes, Jack is aware that my workload meant that I couldn’t do it this time.”

    “did you take off time too?”
    “I wish! Unfortunately I just have a rather large workload myself, so I’m limited in how much I additional work I can cover for. Maybe I’ll ask Jack for an extra week to recover. Can you cover for me?” (okay, omit the last two lines…)

  18. CM*

    For the snarky comments, I’d remind Cecilia that her work is her responsibility. “X hasn’t been taken care of.” “I know. Do you have a plan for covering X if you’re going to be out?”

  19. Prismatic Professional*

    Hi Alison,

    I’m still having issues with the ads. When they change they center the screen on the ad, so I loose my place. I’ve lost it twice while writing this comment.

    Chrome, USA

Comments are closed.