is my employee lying about using sick time for the Super Bowl?

A reader writes:

I just took over job duties for a departing manager (doing two jobs now – yay!), and inherited a new employee. He was my coworker until now, and does a generally good job, although I have had some concerns about his work ethic (that’s a different story entirely that I plan to address).

This employee is a huge football fan, and his favorite team is in the playoffs. They played this past weekend, and won, so they’re moving on to the next round. He had requested time off from his previous manager (the person I took over for, who I’ve spoken to briefly about this) for three Mondays this month and a Wednesday to the following Monday in late January/early February (which happens to be the time of the Super Bowl). When he requested the time originally, and later mentioned this to me, he described the time off for the Mondays as “for travel,” and for the longer request said that a family member is having surgery, and he needs to help this person, so he will be taking family sick leave (a separate PTO category, which is relevant later). The Mondays off made sense because, at the time, he didn’t know where or which day of the weekend they would be playing (and indeed, he ended up not taking one of them because his team ended up not playing then).

The Mondays don’t bother me — I understand that I don’t need to know what my employees are doing with vacation time. But when he mentioned the longer request to care for the family member, I believed him and didn’t think anything of it, until my other employee told me, as part of her own request for time off, that he was planning to go to Minneapolis if his team was in the Super Bowl. The number of days he requested around the Super Bowl could potentially give him time to help his family member, and then leave for the game a couple of days later, but I am suspicious that there is no surgery, based on how he framed the time off request to the former manager and me. I didn’t say anything to my other employee that what she told me isn’t what he told me.

Importantly, our unused vacation is paid out when we leave the institution, so there’s an incentive NOT to use it and to allow it to accrue. He made a mistake on his time card last month too, noting sick time for an obvious vacation day. I thought it was a mistake, but now I’m concerned that he did it on purpose, thinking that I wouldn’t notice. Also, if he took vacation time for the Super Bowl, he’d wipe out almost all of his accrued vacation balance.

My plan is to let him take the rest of the time off, and if he is lying, and his team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl, I will wait to see what his excuse will be if he cancels the time off request (or maybe he’ll just stick with the original story). I’m now actively rooting for them to lose! Do you have any suggestions for whether I should try to find out if he’s lying? How do I approach the conversation with him if I find out that he is lying? Should I ask my other employee to elaborate on what she knows, without telling her why? Should I be doing anything else to investigate? If I don’t investigate, and they lose and he still takes the time off – do I drop it?

I should mention that some of the work ethic concerns are around the amount of time he spends during the work day talking about football, and possibly looking at sports websites. I haven’t fully investigated this yet, but when I was his coworker, I personally observed it having an effect on some tasks I had asked him to help me with. To give an example, he once told me he’d help me with a task before I became his manager, and when I checked to see the progress he’d made on the task, I saw him looking at an NFL website and NOT doing the task. I ended up having to scramble to get it done, and he could see I was visibly annoyed. It was early in the morning, so I know he wasn’t on a lunch break. This incident has stuck with me, and so whenever I hear him talking about football, I am more annoyed than I normally would be. So I could just be residually mad about this, and not thinking clearly about the time off.

I should also mention that we’re short staffed, and my other employee told me yesterday that he doesn’t offer to help with tasks when he’s not busy, and that she’s a little overwhelmed. So it’s a larger pattern of behavior that I need to deal with soon. But I also don’t want to accuse him of lying if there really is a surgery! That would be horrible. But I need to figure all of this out ASAP.

Well, as you note, he might really be going to Minneapolis to take care of a sick relative and plans to see the Super Bowl while he’s there, so it could be both.

But I can see why you’re wondering.

I’d start by asking him straight-out, “Hey, did I get your leave type wrong for February? I wrote down that it’s family sick leave, but someone mentioned you’re going to the Super Bowl then.”

But if that doesn’t clear it up … in general I think it’s best to believe people about this kind of thing, unless you have really solid evidence that they’re lying. That does mean it’s possible that he could get get a few days of family sick leave that he wasn’t really entitled to, but that’s better than the dynamic you’ll create if people feel like you’re cross-examining their honest claims for sick leave.

That doesn’t mean that you should turn a blind eye to the things that are making you feel uneasy, though. When you’re suspicious of something you can’t quite prove, it can be useful to take a closer look at other aspects of that person’s behavior — because often when someone acts without integrity in one area, they’re doing it in others too. So in this case you might make a point of more closely watching how he reports leave on his time card (in case that mistake last month is part of a pattern) and generally pay more attention to him in areas where you might normally not give a lot of oversight. If you find nothing, then great! That could clear his name in your mind. But if you do find more troubling things, you’ll have something more concrete to address.

I’d also pay more attention to how much time he’s really spending talking about and reading about sports during the day, and address that if it’s excessive, as well as talk to him about needing to do more to help your other employee when he’s not busy. And it’s okay to say, “I see you on sports websites a lot — what’s your workload like right now?” and “Let’s have you take on X and Y to help out Jane while she’s so busy.”

In other words, there’s a lot you can do here around your concerns in general, even if you don’t go on a detective hunt around this particular trip.

{ 490 comments… read them below }

  1. Roscoe*

    I totally agree here. Don’t bring up the Superbowl thing at all. It seems you have a lot of other issues you could address in general about his work ethic and lack of teamwork, but I just don’t like the idea of policing why people are taking their time off. Even if you think he is using the wrong leave, it just looks really petty. I know if I knew my boss was questioning people taking time off to care for sick family members, I’d lose respect for the manager.

    1. Murphy*

      I don’t like the idea of policing people’s leave either, but on the other hand, as an employee, I’d be pissed if someone lied about taking family sick leave when they were going to the Superbowl.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        I would be pissed if it meant that any time someone else needed leave, management was suspicious or difficult about it. If it didn’t affect me I would just think they were an idiot for doing something that could get them fired like that– if it doesn’t penalize me, they can make their own stupid bed.

        1. LazyDazy*

          But it doesn’t look like there is a general trend of policing people’s leave here – in fact, it appears quite the opposite.

          1. MommyMD*

            I agree. Employer is entitled to a verification note. Whenever I take my banked sick leave for family care, I get a note from their physician. I’m not required to but I want my employer to know I’m not abusing this time off.

      2. Roscoe*

        Why? I mean really, why would you care? If it didn’t affect you, I don’t get why you’d be pissed.

        1. Murphy*

          a) Because it’s not fair that Fergus gets extra vacation days and nobody else does. b) I’m working with an unethical and dishonest person.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, I wouldn’t feel great about someone getting a de facto increase in vacation days just because they’re more willing to be unethical than I am.

            Of course, the best solution to this is to a) just dump everything in a generic PTO bucket so it doesn’t matter and b) make sure you’re giving people generous vacation time and crosstraining to cover absences so someone being out for a few days doesn’t matter, but I suspect most of those decisions are above the OP’s pay grade.

          2. JS*

            Thats why its a bad idea to have separate sick or vacation days. PTO should be PTO across the board. Justifying how you are going to use it or why is just a crappy policy to have.

            1. JessaB*

              then people who are disabled or need more sick leave because of chronic conditions do not ever get to take vacations. If I have to worry that I’m going to need every hour in the bucket for sick leave I can’t ever take vacation in case I do. If I have vacation time and sick time, I know how many days I can be sick, when I need FMLA, when I need other things. One bucket looks nice but tends to make people take less because they’re saving it for when they’re sick.

              Also if vacation pay gets paid out whether by company policy or state law where the company is, then separating it is good. Because that’s a benefit you promised people.

              1. Natalie*

                I don’t really see how that’s a functional difference from a system with separate buckets? If someone uses all of their sick time and can’t afford to take a lot of unpaid leave, they end up using up their vacation time to cover chronic illness anyway. And if you take FMLA, your employer can apply any accrued leave balance you have (sick, vacation, or general PTO) without your permission.

                (And for what it’s worth, in states that require payout I believe a general PTO bucket is typically treated the same as time off specifically labeled “vacation”, but I’m not positive on that one.)

                1. DaddySocialWorker*

                  Natalie, I can’t comment on other states but in MA, you’re quite correct. Generic PTO must be paid out 100%.

                2. A.*

                  Yes! When you take FMLA you have to use all your PTO including vacation and personal leave. I think I’m lucky. I’ve never worked for people who care. People use their sick leave for vacation when they run out of vacation days and no one bats an eye.

                3. SpaceySteph*

                  “When you take FMLA you have to use all your PTO including vacation and personal leave.”

                  Not entirely true. FMLA allows companies to make this a rule but the law itself doesn’t require this. Some companies (including mine) allow people on FMLA to take unpaid leave even if you have PTO in the bank. I know many people on maternity leave who’ve done that to save their PTO for after they return to work.

              2. JS*

                Natalie covered the point of how FMLA can take accrued vacation time and count it towards sick so it all gets used the same anyway.

                Regarding point #2 unless the person is using up all their sick time (which doesnt get paid out) for vacation first then they aren’t gaming the system. If they end up using all their time regardless during the year, or all their vacation then sick, then it shouldn’t matter how its distributed because they aren’t getting more value over other employees in the long run since they are using it all or using all of their vacation.

            2. CheeryO*

              I have never worked somewhere with a single PTO bucket, but wouldn’t that just encourage people to come in when they’re sick?

              1. Natalie*

                That has been my experience, although in that case the PTO bucket was a bit skimpy in my opinion. I think if they had added another workweek’s worth, it would have been less of a problem.

              2. JS*

                At the companies I have worked for no because we have always had the ability to work from home when we were too sick to come in but well enough to still type on a laptop from the comfort of our home.

                But someone who has a chronic illness or a weakened immune system or just prone to colds might still come in even with designated sick time as they dont want to run out when they really need it.

              3. BF50*

                That has absolutely been my experience. The most obvious examples were people working at month end with the stomach flu and the woman who came in with the actual flu. She obviously had a fever and sat in her cube with a humidifier, wrapped in multiple blankets, trying to work. Mind you, we had a decent amount of vacation time. She probably got 4 or 5 weeks a year, but we couldn’t work from home. She did not to my knowledge have any chronic illness and it was before she had kids.

                She’s generally a great coworker and a friend, so I’m chalking this up to a really messed up work culture at that company. I have half the time off now that I had there, but I’m never really stressed about taking too much off.

              4. Mary*

                Yes. I came in sick all the time when I had this at an old job. We weren’t allowed to work from home, and our time was very stingy. If I wanted any vacation or had any personal business where I needed a day off in the year, I had no choice but to come in sick. Yes, we complained, and yes, we just passed sickness around continually.

              5. Nini*

                It’s been my experience that without separate buckets people come to work sick. We actually had to make an employee go home last year because she was throwing up every 10 minutes. She was clearly unable to work but she fought us hard because she wanted all of the time for vacation. We switched to separate buckets last year and it has absolutely encouraged people to stay home when they are sick … On the other hand, others are correct that for a few people, they appeared to just use the days to use the days.

              6. TardyTardis*

                Yes, it did where I worked before (though the culture was ‘don’t call in sick at month end, don’t call in dead at year end”–working with a 100+ fever was seen as a sign of dedication.). Not to mention that it made managers de facto more able to take sick days than the worker bees, though to be fair, the overtime the managers worked probably meant they did get sick more often. Things worked out better, eventually, though my last year there I really didn’t get any vacation, spent it all on family emergencies–except for two days, for which I had an unexpected house guest who announced on Facebook he was staying an extra day we didn’t know about till then, and wanted to stay longer, but it didn’t happen.

            3. LazyDazy*

              I currently work at a place where all our sick leave and PTO is in one bucket, but I used to work for a company with an “unlimited” sick leave policy (after 3 consecutive days you needed a medical note, and after 5 consecutive days we had to take short-term disability leave, but anything less than that we were not penalized for. ). I much preferred the unlimited sick leave, because it did not encourage people to come in sick. With the bucketed policy, people who really, really probably should have stayed home would drag themselves into work when they were contagious with the flu!

              1. Anna*

                I worked at a place with unlimited sick leave policy. Our department had the highest rates of sick time use in the whole company (like, a company of 5,000 people and our department was less than 20 of those people), but we also had a micromanaging manager, a stressful job that handled siding samples, some of which were probably infected by mildew and mold but we didn’t have any PPE, and a never ending workflow.

            4. nonymous*

              my understanding is that sick leave and vacation (should a co. choose to separate it out) looks different on the balance sheet than a single PTO bucket.

              Companies that offer the single PTO, in some states, must pay upon separation. So it’s a liability at face value on their balance sheet. It’s pretty common in companies offering PTO that they offer an amount that is more than the vacation portions of the separate leave companies (eg 8hr/pp vs 6hr/pp), but less than the total leave amount (so 8hr PTO/pp vs 6hr vacation + 4hr sick/pp). I think the single PTO bucket makes a lot of sense for younger, healthy workers who do not have family obligations. For companies that offer separate sick leave, my understanding is that the expectation is that as an organization sick leave will never be fully paid out, and some orgs even contract with insurance companies to cover that expense. However, usually sick leave can roll over indefinitely so long time employees facing serious or chronic health conditions benefit more. For example, someone who is using only 50% of their sick leave annually with the numbers above will have accumulated 520 hrs (13 weeks) of sick leave, which would mean their entire FMLA period would be covered at 100% pay and they still have vacation to look forward to (it’s possible to reach that state at ~5 years of service with minimal sick leave). For staff in their child bearing years, a decent sick leave benefit can take the place of paid maternal/parental leave.

              1. JS*

                If sick leave can roll over indefinitely then that is something completely different, if they all cap and its use it or lose it with minimal accrual than its the same as if it was PTO. I was at one job that it was in separate buckets but I have never heard of sick time with no cap.

                1. Doreen Kostner*

                  I have a cap – I can only accrue up to 40 weeks of sick leave. With a cap that high, there might as well not be a cap.

              2. miss_chevious*

                Yes, this is the situation at my company. Our sick leave rolls over year to year, but our PTO does not, and our PTO is paid upon termination, but our sick leave is not fully paid (I’m not sure what the percentage is). I like it, because it means that I can plan my PTO for the year without worrying about coming down with a bug that will take up a few vacation days, and because I’m fortunate that I have some sick days accrued in the event that I need them ::knock on wood::.

          3. The OG Anonsie*

            I don’t quibble really hard with the first point in some ways, because it is indeed demoralizing to know that someone else is being dishonest and getting some kind of reward for it. You don’t want that to happen for a number of reasons.

            At the same time, I think we should really sit back away from this and examine how you feel you’re being cheated here and the focus on fairness to other employees. The base idea that, if they get time off that you don’t, that this person is unfairly taking something away from you is rooted in a cultural place that I want to address a little.

            There is a really pervasive attitude in the US that any time an employee is taking sick or family leave they have to really justify it to everyone around them to prove that they’re not just getting one over on their coworkers. Oftentimes your management and/or colleagues will heavily scrutinize whether they feel you really need the time away because they must be assured that you’re not getting something they’re not getting. It contributes very strongly to a trend of bias, scrutiny, and subtle penalty to people who have or care for folks with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Myself and a lot of the folks in various patient / disability advocacy groups often say that contending with this suspicion that we’re running a slick time off scam is one of the largest sources of adversity that we face. It’s extremely pervasive and is part of why a lot of folks with disabilities frequently cover it up at work.

            1. OP*

              Thank you for that – I am a private person, and I don’t want to pry, but he voluntarily shared the information with me about the surgery, so I do have that information. But I agree with not prying. Thank you for your important advocacy work!!

            2. AC*

              I’m late to this, but I just want to say thank you for the work you’re doing and I really support everything you say. I have a family member with a serious neurological condition, and on face he looks like a totally healthy, fit 20-something dude. The few times he has had to take some time off to deal with flare-ups (which will send him to the hospital), he is always wracked with anxiety about colleagues assuming he’s just playing hooky, and it makes me so sad and angry. It’s wonderful to know that there are people out there advocating on his behalf and on the behalves of people who are even more vulnerable than he is!

        2. JHunz*

          Because there’s often a higher workload for remaining employees when someone is on leave, and that’s fine when somebody actually has a sick person to care for but less so when they’ve lied about that to get the time off.

          Because if someone does this and management finds out, it tends to make them more suspicious of similar leave requests from other people even if those are legitimate.

          Because if there’s a financial incentive to use sick time instead of vacation time, having a shred of personal integrity in filing your own leave requests means you are getting a pay cut compared to other employees who take sick time for everything, and it’s pretty hard not to feel resentful about that if you are aware of it.

            1. ZarinC*

              So much this….the OP did say that they were short staffed so it can affect the whole team. I will suck it up and pick up the slack for a sick coworker/family member of coworker, but if I found out they went to the Super Bowl instead I’d be livid.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          Because it *does* affect you. They’re already short-staffed. Having Fergus claim sick days, when he might not have been approved for vacation days, makes them even more so. And, as OG Anonsie said above, it can create an atmosphere that causes problems for honest employees.

        4. TrainerGirl*

          It might not seem like a big deal when someone does this here and there, but if the employee has already coded a leave day wrong, if this is something that they test to see if they can get away with it and they do, they can be emboldened to do it a lot more. I was moved into a workforce management position for the help desk, and while reviewing leave requests, realized that an employee had taken an extra two weeks of vacation by not reporting it. She’d gotten away with it because the managers and previous workforce manager didn’t notice. Over 3 years, she’d gone from a few days to 2 weeks. I’m sure that the other employees would’ve liked an extra 2 weeks of vacation, so yes…there’s a reason to care. You don’t want to get to this point.

    2. Say what, now?*

      It does tank morale when you see someone basically getting an extra week of vacation time by faking sick or lying about taking care of a sick child. It’s especially bad when I have another employee that the “sick” employee is friends with come and show me their facebook pictures where they’ve taken pictures going to concert on the day that they’re supposedly sick… If you’re going to lie about it you should, at minimum, change your privacy settings or at least not post the pictures!!!!!

      The best I feel I can do is say “Well, Ferris Bueller is having fun and you’re working extra hard to cover for him but in the end he’s going to get himself fired using all his time and leaving himself vulnerable should he fall ill.” It doesn’t soothe the coworker terribly much but it outlines why they shouldn’t follow suit.

      1. DArcy*

        And not just getting an extra week of vacation, but getting it on-demand at a highly desirable time regardless of understaffing.

      2. essEss*

        If you see pictures that prove the person is lying about using sick time, that is falsifying time sheets and is a disciplinary/firing offense.

        1. Say what, now?*

          I wish I could. My company is of the mindset that if we are comfortable firing we must be comfortable without the position. We have to demonstrate hardship for 6 months before they’ll consider approving a replacement.

    3. Jenny*

      I disagree. Questioning employees about what they’re doing with their PTO (wasn’t there a recent post about someone’s boss saying they couldn’t take PTO if it was to go to a video game competition?) is petty – insisting that people use sick leave for real health/family issues and not vacation is pretty normal.

  2. Snark*

    This is one of those letters where I feel like the lede got buried. Whether he takes sick leave to watch the Super Bowl or not, the real issue here is that OP is frustrated that he spends the day obsessing over football to the point that he fumbles on work tasks and lets others shoulder a disproportionate amount of work. Address that, OP; you’re almost certainly not wrong. And I like Alison’s script challenging whether the type of leave is correct, but the fundamental issue with this person is that work is not his priority at work, and framed that way, it’s absolutely your business to make your expectations clear.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Agreed. Focusing on the sick time is not the way to go about this; it’s part of a big picture, and it’s the big picture the OP needs to focus on with this employee.

      1. Snark*

        I’m also particularly concerned about the “my stuff is done, so it’s time to hit!!!” thing when his coworker is buried. It’s not just whether he’s doing his work, it’s whether he’s sufficiently engaged in the department’s work to help load-balance. Sounds like not.

        1. Mike C.*

          I think this also depends on the expectations that have been set within the group previously, the amount of communication between coworkers and the nature of why that coworker is feeling swamped. There’s a lot of improvements that can come from every party here and a little meeting would clear up a lot of these issues.

          1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

            Yes. There could be legitimate reasons why he doesn’t know the co-worker is feeling overwhelmed. Right now at my office we’re going through our busiest time of year. There was a change to our process this year that makes it easier for management to monitor what work we’ve got on our plates but it came about because of a co-worker who would pull all this work into her box and mark it as complete before she’d finished the tasks. It created a situation where she was being given more and more work because she had all of these completed tasks visible to others. It wasn’t until she had a panic attack at her desk this time last year that anyone knew there was an issue.

            1. LBK*

              It sounds like when the OP was his coworker, the OP was asking and the coworker wasn’t following through, so I don’t know if we can really put much onus on the overburdened coworker to be asking for help. It’s rarely a secret when a department is understaffed – although if anyone is in a position to ensure the work is redistributed appropriately, it’s the OP as their manager.

              1. Genny*

                I also think it’s also on the manager (in this case, the LW), to ensure that tasks/assignments are being appropriately prioritized. It’s unfair to your staff to acknowledge you’re short-staffed and then require them keep up the same workload as before. The manager needs to be taking non-critical tasks of their plate, especially if this period of being short-staffed is turning out to be quite prolonged.

                1. OP*

                  OP here – I totally agree that it’s not his coworker’s job to ask – it’s my job to figure that out and spread out the workload. That’s part of what I’m starting to do – I really want to nip that in the bud ASAP before it does become a morale problem.

          2. JessaB*

            When someone asks him to do something and he says YES, whether it’s a coworker or not, whether it’s normal for coworkers to ask for help or not, he’s said YES. He’s obligated to not be looking at football when not on break until he’s helped the coworker. OR he’s obligated to say no we don’t do that. Or I can’t. But once you say yes you’ll help, you’re obligated to help.

        2. Anony*

          I agree. It sounds like his idea of what is expected (he gets his work done and can then goof off) and what the OP expects (he gets his work done and then helps his coworkers) are at odds. That should be addressed and it doesn’t involve his use of vacation/sick time at all.

          1. The OG Anonsie*


            But also, I’m not clear from the letter if he actually left the OP in the lurch here (OP since you are here, can you clarify? Because I’m very curious). It says she checked on him, saw him not working on it at that moment, and then went and scrambled to do the whole thing. I can’t tell if that’s because he missed a timeline the OP needed or if, and I’m not trying to sound uncharitable here, the OP saw this guy not working and then just assumed that meant she wasn’t going to be helped and had to do it all herself.

            People have wildly different expectations around stuff like this, and I wonder if that’s coming into play here. I’ve worked with a lot of people who, if they ask you to do something and then don’t see you doing it, assume you’re not going to even though they haven’t spoken to you about it. Other folks, like me, will fit everything into their overall timeline somewhere and assume that if they get it back to you by the time you’ve asked for it, it’s good.

            1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

              This was 100% my thought as well. Say you asked him to help at 12pm, task should take an hour to complete, and it needs to be done by 5pm. Then you walk by at 2pm, see him on football page, check on task, see that’s it’s not done and scramble to do it. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t planning to do it at 3pm to be done by 4pm. Sure, some jobs/task don’t really work that way. Or maybe it was due by 2pm and he hadn’t done it yet – in that case, yeah, not good. Just think it through though – if he could have completed this task and his other work on time, with a football break (or multiple football breaks) scattered throughout, then he might have have a different working style than you, and that’s not really cool to try to manage (again, unless there issues performance/output).

              I’m not saying this guy is a stellar employee by any means, but I kind of feel like the OP is focusing on/criticizing a little too much the “how” he’s doing his work and not the end results. First – forget about how much time he’s spending on football/talking about football/whatever. Is he completing all of his assignments/work in a timely manner? If not – THIS should be the focus. What is he not doing, what deadlines are he missing, what work is not up to par? If he is completing everything on time – then second – look at the workload of your team. Would it make sense to shift over some of the overwhelmed co-worker’s responsibilities to him? Or is the real problem, the lack of teamwork on his part. If so – address THAT, not “football”, though do feel free to use his preoccupation with football as an example of his lack of teamwork.

              One of my biggest pet peeves is managers who mistake their style/way as the only acceptable style/way. It just drives me crazy! If there’s an issue with my output – identify the problem, clarify expectations and then look into the how I’m getting my work done. Just don’t automatically assume that if I’m doing something differently than you would that I’m necessarily doing it wrong.

              I had very bad experience with an extremely dogmatic manager (down to saying it was “incorrect” to format a spreadsheet horizonatally rather than vertically – it was an internal tracker that only I would be using – and demanding that I change it and then accused me of insubordination when I tried to push back), so I acknowledge that I’m viewing this letter through my own dirty lense.

              1. The OG Anonsie*

                Agreed. And I’m not asserting that this is what’s happening, only that I entirely cannot tell from the letter whether the guy is actually slacking or if it’s a perception thing.

              2. Genny*

                Agreed. Before you start reassigning the overburdened coworker’s work to football guy, make sure that it’s actually necessary. We’re currently short-staffed in my office, and there’s one employee who constantly works late and on the weekends. It’s not that she has so much to do, it’s that she’s a bit of a work-aholic and doesn’t always realize that not everything on her plate has to be done this instant. It could be that overburdened coworker really is overburdened and that football guy should be helping out. It could also be that they both have the same workload, but overburdened coworker handles her workload differently.

              3. boo*

                @ Sunshine on a Cloudy Day: Yeah, very much this. It does sound to me like this guy is actually declining to help his coworkers even when he has time to do so, but the monitoring of football breaks would make me incredibly frustrated.

                Pick a random snapshot of me during the day and I might be deeply engrossed in my work, or I might be taking a break to cook a haggis at 2:00 in the afternoon, or I might be researching parasitic wasps that turn cockroaches into zombie slaves.*

                I work at home, and obviously in a shared workplace, it would be less acceptable to get up and start vacuuming the furniture (partly because there might be people sitting in it). Still, it’s crucial for me to be able to step away from my work from time to time and do something completely unrelated; it’s how I get unstuck, and therefore get back to working again. Maybe this guy does that with football. Maybe he’s just avoiding work, who knows (and the OP knows better than I!)

                But if I had to work where people could see me, and my work ethic were judged by my ability to look like I’m working, uninterrupted and undistracted, I’d last about a day.

                *Google “jewel wasp”. You won’t regret it. Actually, you might regret it and also have nightmares, but do it anyway, it’s worth it.

              4. IrishUp*

                +1 to all of this.
                And either we had the same manager, or there is a Bad Manager Cloning Facility somewhere. Because my former BM did exactly the same thing w/r/t a spread-sheet I was developing for my own use, that they would never be using.

                1. nonymous*

                  to be fair, in some disciplines the fact that you’re okay with the horizontal scroll implies lack of internalizing some concepts. It is especially frowned upon in database admin and certain analyst circles because it does affect issues such as memory allocation and subsetting data for reports. I wouldn’t write someone up for insubordination but it would make me wonder what other bad habits they have and whether they have natural aptitude for those types of tasks.

                2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

                  @nonymous oh totally fair if this had anything anything to do with data analysis or data admin, but this was definitely not (and this manager was decidedly not a data person). It was a spreadsheet to track the due dates/dates completed for certain legally mandated steps within the onboarding process for new employees. Super basic stuff here. This is info that, because it was legally mandated, documentation of it could be requested by regulatory bodies governing our industry within an audit.

                  Bad manager was previously responsible for ensuring these steps were met. She kept track/documented the info… in her head. They got hit with an audit a couple of months after I left and I so, so badly want to see the results.

            2. OP*

              Sorry for the delay in replying to this specific comment. This was a very time-sensitive task that usually takes a full day for 1 person to do (it’s a mass mailing). I had mentioned to him that I was going to come in early the next day to work on the task, and he said “don’t worry, I’ll help with (one specific part of the task that was the first step in getting it done),” so I thought GREAT! I will come in at my regular time (I am exempt, and he’s non-exempt, so I don’t get paid for coming in early). He’s done this task before, so he knows how long it takes to get done and should have known what the deadline was – although I don’t think I actually told him what the deadline was. But again, we do this task literally every week, so you’d have to be pretty actively NOT paying attention not to know that we needed to get it done by X time. So yes, I could have been more clear, but that fact that you’re online FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, and not doing the work – as opposed to the other way around – is unacceptable to me. That is a specific thing I can be more clear on – work first, play later.

          2. OP*

            YES. That is exactly the issue. And that’s why this is so frustrating – we work as a team, and it’s always been the expectation that you ask people what you can help with, but it didn’t get through with him somehow, and I need to bring it to his attention.

            1. nonymous*

              Just pull him aside and be frank on this topic. Ask him what he’s done in the last week to contribute to team (beyond his required duties). If it’s low, ask him why. If he’s claiming that routine duties take more time than they should, enforce that standard. If he needs a script you can assign him to a buddy for the day: “Fergus, after you finish painting these five teapot spouts ask Jane what help she needs painting teapot handles”. It sounds like you don’t have any metrics to track helpfulness, so it might be valuable when checking in with other staff to ask them if they’ve worked with the shirker on anything.

              1. OP*

                Thank you! One of the things that I realized through the feedback here is that our team really values teamwork. But that is a really vague concept, and for someone like him who doesn’t seem to “get it,” I need to be clear about actions that illustrate teamwork. So I could tell him that I expect him to check in if he has nothing to do to see if there’s anything he can help with. I can check in with both staff more regularly to see what they’re working on, and divide the work evenly (so they don’t need to figure it out between themselves). We’ve never really had this issue with previous employees, but now I see that I need to be more concrete.

                1. JS*

                  Yes! It’s always better not to assume. Some people don’t pick up on cues others do for whatever reason. He also might feel he is contributing in ways that are unnoticed or might feel like he has a heavier work load or more difficult for whatever reason so he feels like contributing more would be unfair to him. It’s best to clearly talk out expectations and make them into tangible goals rather than assume someone will understand, “teamwork” and how it relates to your team.

            2. Doe-Eyed*

              This may not apply to your workplace, but at our workplace we’ve had managers really push the “We’re a team and everyone helps!” dynamic and it caused our best people to burn out and leave. They did high quality work, quickly, and their reward was having to pick up slack from slower, less capable coworkers — so the slower workers had no incentive to speed up/improve and the faster ones had no incentive to produce as quickly as they were only punished for it.

              1. AnonNurse*

                So much this!! I am naturally fast and move through work quickly. Usually all that means is more work and other co-workers who feel they can do less work because I will fill in blanks. That gets old and it’s VERY easy to get burned out quickly as a high performer in that type of environment. Sometimes I just need a break to drink a cup of coffee, not to jump in and pull my co-worker out of the weeds ALL THE TIME. It’s not because they’re not capable, it’s because they’ve become incentivized to do less work. So frustrating to be in that environment.

                1. OP*

                  I agree that it needs to be more fair. Previously, we’ve had high performers, so this was never an issue until now. And, to be honest, I don’t understand the mentality of not actively asking if you can help out when you have free time, so until now, I haven’t figured out how to deal with it. But I’m more clear now. Thanks!

        3. neverjaunty*

          And whether he understands that the OP, who is now his boss, has the right to set expectations, rather than having to seethe quietly while he dumps his work on her.

    2. Adlib*

      Agreed. OP mentions his work ethic as being separate in the very first part of the letter, but the situation is a continuation of frustration around that.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Totally agreed. I would focus on his effectiveness at work, his support of others, his ability to deliver on time, etc. Those are performance issues that require correction. The leave issue is a symptom of the former. Basically, if he were a stellar employee (or if OP really liked him), would OP still have leave concerns? If so, then separate out and think about how to approach those concerns.

      OP should focus on treating the work performance issues, first. If those improve, it may also have the effect of remedying the leave concerns.

          1. Darkitect*

            I hate the idea of fudging sick leave for vacation time but suspect the employee is (also) a Jaguars fan and man, it’s been a long time.

            1. OP*

              Haha – I’ve been debating whether to mention which team, but it’s one of 2 teams left in the playoffs, both of which are far away from Minneapolis! (But, unrelated, I’m personally hoping for a Jags/Vikings Super Bowl!)

    4. fposte*

      I think sometimes people have a particularly strong reaction if they feel like somebody’s trying to pull something on them–it’s kind of like the way some people really want to call out AAM letters they think are fake. But even if that’s what bugs the OP the most, that’s not the biggest problem–an employee taking a day is small potatoes, whereas an employee who’s generally lackluster is not.

      1. Queen of the File*

        Are you always on fire as much as you have been the last couple of days? I want you to be my internet commenting mentor :)

        Anyway I agree–feeling like someone is lying to you can make you feel like they think you’re stupid. Watching someone break rules that you doggedly follow can also bring out justice-lust. It’s hard to put those emotions in their place to focus on productive action.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. It’s particularly important for a new manager to squash any hall-monitor tendencies that will harm everyone’s morale more than they curb the small stuff.

        2. boo*

          This is why I really like Alison’s advice in these situations to look for other problem behaviors, especially because I think that kind of reaction isn’t usually triggered by someone’s first offense. If someone I respected did this, my response would probably be mild amusement that they managed to take their turn helping the family member so they can also squeeze in the Super Bowl (I mean, it’s on a Sunday, right? And care giving is hard work, from which one needs a break! Heck, maybe the ailing family member is going, too! I probably wouldn’t even speculate this hard!)

          If something feels like the last straw, there’s a reason, even if you feel like this is the first concrete thing you can name. So, “Go look for other straws” is a great way to take the focus off the thing that’s causing the strong emotional reaction, while also gathering helpful information to back up your case.

          1. OP*

            Yes – that’s exactly it. Thank you! This is really helping me, because I want to make sure I’m judging the situation clearly and not with justice-lust.

      2. Lissa*

        Yup. I am one of those people. I can tell myself and hear other commenters repeat it doesn’t matter all the day long and it still makes me want to tear apart their story piece by piece and show everyone they were a liar/deceiver!

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Right. And the fact that it’s football doesn’t matter, either. Fumbling on work tasks and letting colleagues shoulder a disproportionate amount of work are the problems.

    6. BethRA*

      I agree that his work ethic is an issue, but so is lying and not being able to trust an employee – especially since there’s a potential financial impact for the company if he’s using family leave instead of vaca and you have to pay out that vaca when he gets fired for spending all day on football websites.

        1. Annabelle*

          It says he’s taking sick time, though, not FMLA. Most of the places I’ve worked don’t make people document sick days.

        2. LBK*

          FWIW I have a bank of PTO called “family care time” that’s unrelated to FMLA, it’s just a bank of separate paid time that’s neither a vacation nor time for me to take off when I’m sick, it’s specifically meant for when I need to take care of someone else.

          1. MoinMoin*

            That’s really nice (although I’m always an advocate of less specific time buckets). My company has unlimited sick time, but it only covers you. We had a newer employee that stayed home to take care of his son and his manager put it in as sick time but didn’t tell the employee about the policy, so the employee thought nothing of just saying he stayed home for his son. Then someone else got wind of it and he had to use a PTO day instead since it wasn’t according to policy. Just silliness. As long as it isn’t excessive, I don’t see why anyone should care.

            1. Jen S. 2.0*

              I’m here about it as well. I have the luxury of having pretty good sick and vacation time, and supervisors who are reasonable. As long as I’m actually taking leave, and not just randomly out on a day that no one knows what’s happened to me, they don’t put too fine a point on which bucket I take it from.

          2. OP*

            Yes – and ours is just 40 hours per year to help with short-term stuff. It’s a nice perk, but our institution has clear and specific rules about how all buckets of PTO are to be used.

    7. turquoisecow*

      Yeah, as a coworker (who doesn’t like football), I’d be more concerned that he was spending a lot of time looking at football sites and talking about football and not helping me than I would be about the fact that he was taking time off to see the Super Bowl.

      Also, after the Super Bowl, football season is over. Will he then take up his time looking at basketball sites, or baseball, or the Olympics, or something else? Will he suddenly become a super helpful and on-task worker, or will there be something else that prevents his work from getting done? The Super Bowl is a one time, once a year thing. But it sounds like he has a pattern of slacking off and not getting his work done that I suspect will probably continue after that.

      OP, as his boss, if you see this guy looking at football websites, step in and ask him where he is on his actual work tasks. If he claims they’re done, ask his coworker(s) what they need help on, and consider reassigning tasks. It seems like the workload might not be evenly balanced amongst the team. If he doesn’t finish the tasks he’s supposed to do on his own, there should be actual consequences for that failure.

      1. Christmas Carol*

        To everything turn, turn, turn……
        Super Bowl LII — Sunday, Feb 4, 2018
        Pitchers & Catchers report — Monday, Feb 12, 2018

        While I agree, his lack of productivity on the job is the real issue, I can’t imagine a crueler punishment for a super fan than going to see your favorite team in the Super Bowl, and not ever being able to brag about the experience to your co-workers because you lied about your whereabouts.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Oooh, that’s a good point. Most of the big football fans I know would NOT want to keep quiet about that!

        2. JessaB*

          Unless you weren’t lying and you were responsible for taking your post stroke wheelchair bound oxygen using grandfather to what may be the last time in his life that the family team is in THE game. While spending the day looking after his medical needs and travelling issues.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think that would fit most employers’ definition, though. Just because the person is unwell doesn’t mean taking them to the Superbowl counts as medical assistance.

      2. OP*

        Yes – I agree with another commenter about how football is really all freaking year. They are practice in the summer. Trades happen. He’s active on a fantasy league, and stuff happens all year.

  3. Penny*

    This letter is really bothering me. I would hate to work in a place where my time off was always considered suspect. He has the leave available to him and he’s allowed to use it. That should be the end of the story. It’s not your business how he’s using it.

    Dropping the ball (so to speak) at work because of his preoccupation with football is a whole separate issue.

    1. TCO*

      I don’t think it’s unfair to expect employees to follow a company policy that requires that sick leave is used for illness/family care and that vacation leave is used for other kinds of time off. That’s really common and really reasonable.

      1. Autumnheart*

        It’s a reasonable expectation, but making an investigation out of it because of his internet activity and comments to other coworkers is where it crosses the line, I’d say. It smacks of having to put on a performance in order to justify using one’s own PTO. That’s not good.

        1. DArcy*

          I disagree. Making an investigation out of it due to *substantial evidence that he’s misusing it* seems entirely reasonable.

      2. The OG Anonsie*

        Sure but, the LW doesn’t seem to have a really solid reason not to trust that this employee is being honest other than that they seem to think their interest in football is excessive.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think that’s fair! Someone directly told her that he’s planning to attend the Super Bowl during the time he asked for family medical leave, and the rest of his behavior is such that that seems like it could be plausible.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            You’re right! I misread it originally that another employee asked off for the same dates for the Super Bowl, making the OP wonder if the original guy’s dates were also for the Super Bowl.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair to the letter writer, there’s nothing that indicates that time off is always considered suspect. This is a specific situation with specific things that are making her wonder — someone specifically told her that he plans to travel for the Super Bowl rather than care for an ill family member, and she has enough context to make that seem plausible, so she’s wondering how to handle it. And it does matter if someone is using family medical leave when they’re just vacationing.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        One thing that nagged me about this is that the Super Bowl is on a Sunday and this guy requested Wednesday on up. As the OP notes, that’s a lot of time that would easily accommodate both as the surgery would almost definitely be on a weekday. Since it wasn’t even decided which teams are going to the Super Bowl when he made his request (and still isn’t!) he doesn’t yet have a reason to give the manager updated travel plans since, at this point, he has no reason to plan to be there. If his team goes he very well may let everyone know he’s doing both, and/or ask for additional time after.

        So let’s say the other employee is right and he is planning to go. The base situation is still that the guy is telling the truth and will try to fit the game into his existing travel plans if his team makes it in. Obviously he could be playing the long con on this one and lying, as a great many people have made up stuff to get time off before, but reading the letter I can’t help but feel like the reason the OP thinks this is going on is that she has a general distaste for the way this employee carries himself at work. Which is valid, but a separate issue. An employee not meshing with you at best or being a poor performer at worst shouldn’t tilt you to assume that they’re going to be dishonest about something like this.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          tl;dr I think it’s safe for the OP to assume he’s not doing something wildly inappropriate, keep her eyes open for it, and not worry about it unless it happens. The other problems with this guy are separate, and I think they’re muddying up the waters a little.

        2. Midlife Job Crisis*

          As a football fan, Super Bowl host cities put on pre-game, football related activities open to the general public. They often happen on Thursdays and Fridays. (Not condoning his actions though :).)

        3. OP*

          Yes – I can explain that part. We live pretty far away, so there’s travel involved. My other employee said he didn’t have a ticket, so he was just going to go and try to get a ticket. As I mentioned in other comments, I do not want to be the monster manager, at all. I just was told 2 different things and asked for help about that specific issue so I’m seeing it clearly and reacting fairly.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Right, I assumed from the way you described it in the letter that he’d have to travel.

            What I wanted to point out is that this may not be two different things. He could easily have an obligation during the week and also be hoping to make it to the game if his team makes it in.

        4. OP*

          And the fact that he asked off for the Monday after the game was the other factor. So if he was doing both, the Monday (in my mind) would be for travel back home, but he asked off for the family sick time.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It sounds like the problem is not that he’s taking leave—it’s that he’s applying sick leave to what may in fact be a vacation. It also doesn’t sound like OP’s workplace is a place where people’s time off is always suspect.

      I’m generally of the belief that folks shouldn’t police leave categories in this manner, but I understand why, when added to the performance issues, the possible misuse of sick leave is sticking in OP’s craw.

    4. NotMyRealName*

      But he’s gaming the system to use sick days instead of vacation days so that he can get paid for the unused vacation days.

      1. Roscoe*

        This really depends on your view of “sick time” there have been many debates on this very site about whether sick time is ok to use because its part of your benefits package, or if its only for emergencies. As someone who doesn’t get sick often and has no kids, I fall on the “part of my benefits” package thing. I will definitely use a sick day here and there when I’m not really sick. I know that some people, including the OP, don’t feel this way though.

        1. Penny*

          Agree, like in the case of mental health days – I use sick days for those. I’m not “sick” but sometimes I need a day for my mental wellness.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Hm. That just seems like preventative medicine, and is totally fine with me.

            But taking “sick” days to go on a pre-planned leisure trip? No way.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This. I think there’s a difference between taking wellness days and taking vacation but calling it “sick” leave.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I didn’t say it does. But the Super Bowl is not the same as a mental health day, etc., even if it contributes to your overall happiness. There’s a fine line between “things we do as proactive health management” and vacation.

                2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Yes (to PCBH). Absolutely vacation is a key piece of health care. But, for organizations that separate their leave time into two buckets, they’re already accounting for that.

                3. finderskeepers*

                  Exactly, if a company has separate vacation and sick days, then non-illness would fall into vacation.

                4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I disagree, but I see your point.

                  I think part of the distinction that matters is planned time off vs. unplanned time off. Scheduling a trip to Maui in February = vacation, even though the reason you chose that vacation at that time is that you know getting sun in the middle of winter is key to your mental health. Taking tomorrow off because you can feel your anxiety ramping up and a day in bed will help you get it under control = a reasonable use of sick time (IMO).

                5. JessaB*

                  I think the issue is that most often wellness days do not get planned in advance because if they do they’re vacation days. And that most people who DO need a wellness day will do it with an eye towards the existing work and schedules UNLESS they need one suddenly (woke up badly depressed, had a lousy night, whatever.)

                6. The Voice of Reason*

                  “Scheduling a trip to Maui in February = vacation, even though the reason you chose that vacation at that time is that you know getting sun in the middle of winter is key to your mental health. Taking tomorrow off because you can feel your anxiety ramping up and a day in bed will help you get it under control = a reasonable use of sick time (IMO).”

                  I’m afraid I disagree completely. In your example, seasonal affective disorder can *cause* anxiety and a desire to stay in bed. So your approach is happy to treat symptoms, rather than underlying conditions.

                7. fposte*

                  @Voice–but at that point, given the known health benefits of vacation, it’s all sick time. Why shouldn’t employers just stop giving vacation, which is more of an economic burden for them, and only give sick days?

                8. oranges & lemons*

                  I would say that something like taking a day off after a stressful period could also reasonably be seen as a preventative health day–for me, that can be the difference between getting a cold and not getting one. Of course, this is all hypothetical for those of us who get 2 sick days a year.

            2. The Voice of Reason*

              “Hm. That just seems like preventative medicine, and is totally fine with me. But taking “sick” days to go on a pre-planned leisure trip? No way.”

              This comment is the very definition of “elevating form over substance.”

              Vacations contribute to mental wellness; that’s why we take them. If you’re OK with the occasional “sickie” for “wellness days,” I don’t see the objection for using it for a “leisure trip.”

              1. NW Mossy*

                The objection is that some organizations clearly separate vacation and sick time, and generally spell out in their policies what types of time off fall into each category. As a manager, I’d expect my employees to read our policies and follow them. Any disagreements about the terms of the policy need to be raised as a separate issue for consideration.

                There are also important legal distinctions – one common one is that accrued vacation time may be required to be paid out to the employee if they leave the organization, but the same isn’t necessarily true of PTO schemes that combine vacation and sick. This is important for employers to get right for compliance purposes, and it’s reasonable for them to have policies about how time off is used and expect employees to follow them.

                1. Natalie*

                  There are also important legal distinctions – one common one is that accrued vacation time may be required to be paid out to the employee if they leave the organization, but the same isn’t necessarily true of PTO schemes that combine vacation and sick.

                  NAL but I did a bit of searching on this and it seems like the opposite is typically the case – if you have one combined PTO bucket, it’s treated like vacation for the purpose of payout laws. Which makes sense, if you think about it, since PTO works like vacation in everything but name, and generally speaking you can’t skirt laws just by changing something’s name.

                2. NW Mossy*

                  That’s so interesting, because the opposite was true for me when my org switched to PTO from vacation/sick. We used to be entitled to a payout on unused vacation, but under the PTO scheme, we’re not.

                  The broader point still stands, though – the type of scheme you have may trigger different requirements for how it’s managed/tracked/paid.

                3. Natalie*

                  @ NW Mossy, there are only a few states that require vacation payout regardless of employer policies, but there are a bunch of states (nearly half) that require vacation payout if the employer has a policy or practice of doing so. I wonder if your org took the opportunity to rewrite their policy to explicitly disallow it? One of my old companies did that once – they were based in Massachusetts and so their original handbook indicated vacation would be paid out, and that held in my state (MN) because courts here have generally held employers to their handbooks. Some years later they rewrote their policies to indicate that they only paid vacation where required by law (although all of us that already worked their were grandfathered in). And of course it’s always possible they were breaking the law, whether intentionally or not. HR departments aren’t lawyers, after all.

                  Anywhoo, I’ve probably wandered too far off topic.

          2. LBK*

            There’s a difference between mental wellness and just not feeling like going to work that day so you call out sick and use a sick day.

            1. Roscoe*

              Sometimes I just don’t want to come in. I may not NEED a “mental wellness” day,I just would prefer to not come into the office. I feel like if I have the time, I should be able to. Now I get what Victoria above said about planned vs. non planned and why that is different. But if I don’t feel like going to work, I should be able to use a sick day

            2. The Voice of Reason*

              “There’s a difference between mental wellness and just not feeling like going to work that day so you call out sick and use a sick day.”

              Fair enough; care to set out the criteria for distinguishing the two?

          3. Nini*

            We actually specifically tell our employees in our sick policy they can use the time for “mental health days.” I insisted we write the policy that way, because mental health is just as important as physical health and everyone in our company works demanding jobs and many work well above their required hours each week. So far, I don’t think we’ve had a lot of abuse with that, but if you are really really stressed out that just as bad as the flu.

        2. Anony*

          Even if you think it is ok to occasionally use sick time when not sick, making up a story about needing to help a relative who is having surgery is pretty clearly over the line.

          1. Snark*

            Yeah, I think the issue is that he’s bullshitting so as to have his cake (leave hours payout) and eat it too.

            1. OP*

              Or that I’m not totally sure whether he is lying, and wanted to figure it out. But based on the advice, I’m going to drop investigating that issue and work on the work ethic issue separately.

            2. Competent Commenter*

              Well, sure, but the OP says if the employee uses his vacation time for this (maybe) Super Bowl trip it will use up nearly all of his accrued vacation. This isn’t a guy who’s saving up as much vacation as possible in order to cash it out when he quits.

        3. finderskeepers*

          I go out of my way to schedule dr, dentist and eye appt in evenings and weekends and rarely get sick. So yeah , I feel a little entitled to use sick days as personal days

          1. AMPG*

            But sick time is given to you so you can use it for those things. It’s on you if you choose to give up your evenings and weekends for pre-scheduled doctor’s appointments. You don’t get to then just decide that you’re entitled to extra vacation.

        4. Annabelle*

          Yeah, this is my perspective as well. I have definitely taken mental health days when I wasn’t physically ill and I had PTO to burn. I know tons of people who do that. Also, we have no idea if he’s planning on doing both. He could very well be taking care of his relative and planning on going to the Super Bowl, which I don’t really think is lying.

        1. paul*

          I’ve used one-bucket systems for most of my life, and they’re not perfect either. I don’t know that either system is immune to abuse from crappy employees or employers.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          But sometimes one bucket policies make people see it as all vacation time. It may encourage people to come to work sick so that they don’t use “vacation/PTO days.” At a previous employer we had Vacation and Sick time accrued, I was a non-exempt employee so YMMV, but we were allowed to use vacation and sick time how ever we wanted. I think my situation was easier because one you ran out of those you could still take time off it would probably just be unpaid.
          At one point I decided I was moving back home and would be leaving before a full year of employment with the company so I would not be able to get my vacation time paid out. So I started trying to use up all my sick and vacation days, during one bloc I put in for a sick day on a Friday and a Vacation day on a Monday for a four day weekend. This was submitted well in advance and listing the reason as going out of town. It was all approved with out any questions.

          1. paul*

            I was guilty as hell of coming in sick to save PTO my first 2-3 years at my job. We got 15 days PTO a year for the first 3 years and I wanted to save it for longer trips to visit family, and to keep a reserve in case I got *really* sick (think hospital visit or surgery type sick–which did wind up happening so I was glad I had!). These days it isn’t an issue, I’ve been here long enough to accrue more days but still…

        3. Holacracy*

          Perhaps it’s a better argument for unlimited vacation time, or “holacracy.”

          I have had the good fortune of working at companies that have, if not unlimited, then very flexible vacation time policies. (They are not ture holacracies, because the all had organization charts/managers.) The tradeoff is that we often work until 11 pm, but that’s fine by me!

    5. Lily in NYC*

      Not when it’s not regular vacation time! Sick leave is not “free to use however we please”.

    6. Mediamaven*

      It is absolutely management’s business if he is lying and saying he needs a special category of leave (family sick leave) when that isn’t the case. That is stealing from the company.

      1. finderskeepers*

        If sick leave is broadly defined, then it is simply part of your compensation package . Using terms like “stealing” is not conductive to the discussion.

        1. Mediamaven*

          Attending a football game can’t possibly fall under caring for a sick relative. It is stealing paid time if he’s being dishonest about it. It’s a harsh word but when it’s compensation being taken dishonestly then that’s exactly what it is.

          1. Snowed In Again*

            I remember a teacher at my school who took 2 extra weeks off every Christmas. (in addition to the traditional 2 weeks of break) Her argument, since her parents were “elderly” this just might be their last Christmas, so she deserved time off to celebrate with them, charged to Family Illness, not vacation. I’m sure that the fact that her perfectly healthy parents, in their mid-sixties, lived in Key West while we here in the snow belt had nothing to do with it.

          2. JessaB*

            If you’re the person caring for the relative (and I also said this above,) and the relative is as much of a fan as you are and this literally might be the last year in their life that the family team might make the game, it could very well be part of caring for that relative who cannot travel alone to go with them. If the relative is frail or has equipment/medication that has to travel with them, it could very well be legit.

            Now given what the OP feels about this particular employee, it might not be legit, but on the face of it and with an employee you trust to tell you the truth and don’t have other red flags about (putting something down as the wrong kind of leave, etc.) that’s different. But on the face of it, it’s easily possible.

              1. nonymous*

                Honestly, I read it as that the slacker employee has a relative that lives in the Minneapolis area planning surgery on the Thursday before super bowl and they are going to fly out to care for them. But then instead of flying back over the weekend, they are delaying for a day or two to engage in Super Bowl festivities and flying back on Monday instead.

                Now, I do wonder if they “need” to be the care provider for this individual in Mn. Is it like when someone has a colonoscopy and they need to be driven home, and the relative has a local support system?

          3. Bostonian*

            I have to agree with Mediamaven. This isn’t just lying about how he’s using general PTO (possibly/allegedly), it’s about using paid time off that’s mean to be for a SPECIFIC PURPOSE for something completely different. I don’t see how this is any different than trying to get your company to reimburse for a hotel for a “5-day conference” that’s really a 2-day conference with 3 days of personal leisure time.

    7. I See Real People*

      I agree and it bothers me as well that the reason for wanting time off needs to be explained. What do I care if one of my employees is a football fanatic? What if he was a stamping fanatic and attended all of the trade shows for that hobby? What affects me is the work day and if it is getting done. That’s it. If the employee has PTO and saves it for these days off during his hobby season, then great! For some people, I suspect, work life is their whole life. Not me. Not as an employee. Not as a manager. I have a whole other life outside work and so do the people who work for me.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The issue isn’t how he uses his time off. The issue would come in if he’s lying about the type of leave he needs, because one gets paid out and the other one doesn’t.

        1. JS*

          But it still shouldn’t matter unless they are capping days that can be accrued to be payed out as everyone would be getting the same value either as a day off or as pay. Most companies do cap regardless but someone who is cognizant of that would make sure they are under the cap which would give the same amount of value either way you look at it.

          LW says Fergus would use all his vacation he now suspects he wants to use sick time for vacation as well. It’s not as if he is using all of his sick time first for vacation then using vacation time.

          1. Someone else*

            That’s not how I read it. She said sick time is not paid out, but vacation is, and IF he used vacation for this trip he’d have none left, but he’s not using vacation, he’s using sick. And it seems like he’s using the sick in order to not to run out of vacation. Unless he has a family member having surgery the same week as the Superbowl in the same city as the Superbowl and is combining the two trips, which is possible, but a very convenient coincidence, he’s misusing the category of time off, which is tracked and accrued separately.

            1. captain obvs*

              as a data point, minneapolis is home to the mayo clinic? it’s not inconceivable that he is combining a medical trip and the super bowl.

              1. Affable Wolf*

                Minneapolis native here! Minneapolis is not home to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic is in Rochester, MN, which is at least a 90-minute drive in the best weather conditions.

            2. JS*

              I just reread it, it looks like he took 3 vacation Mondays off but from Wednesday to the following Monday as sick time. Still though he is using his vacation days as well and is almost of out them. I still only feel like its truly “gaming the system” if someone where to use all sick days before touching any vacation days with the intention of leaving and getting paid out. Plus he is almost out of vacation days and we are not even 2 months in. Highly unlikely by the end of the year he will have any vacation or PTO days left. Also he is being relatively upfront about taking time off. Nothing would be stopping him from planning an SB trip then calling in day he is leaving that he has a family emergency or sick relative and has to leave ASAP. At least now OP has time to plan.

          2. JamieS*

            That would be true if they put vacation and sick days all in one bucket and/or paid out for both. However since they only pay out vacation days he’s actually getting double value if he’s taking a vacation day but labelling it a sick day because he gets the value of the time off as well as the monetary value of having the unused vacation day, which he rightly shouldn’t have, paid out.

      2. LCL*

        In some work places, including the OP’s it sounds like, vacation pay and sick pay are two completely separate categories and hours are tracked for each one. The acronym PTO isn’t used at these types of places. If you work in this kind of a place, it is considered cheap and sleazy to call in or schedule sick time for what is really a vacation day. The reason it is considered unethical is with this type of a system sick pay trumps all other leave, so is an automatically granted request. While vacation time can be denied.

        1. finderskeepers*

          “The reason it is considered unethical is with this type of a system sick pay trumps all other leave, so is an automatically granted request.” in those cases, do doctors appts count as sick day that “trumps” all others? That’s unfair to those who plan ahead with their doctor appts to not interfere with work days.

          1. LBK*

            That’s unfair to those who plan ahead with their doctor appts to not interfere with work days.

            How so? It’s not like there’s anything stopping you from doing the same thing.

          2. LCL*

            All sick time is equal. We don’t ‘approve’ sick requests, we process them. IE, the employee doesn’t ask for sick time, they tell us they will be out sick. On occasion someone will ask about a good time to schedule a procedure, I work with them and always start by telling them to schedule it at the best time for their needs.

          3. The OG Anonsie*

            How is that unfair to people who can schedule appointments outside work hours? Most medical appointments are only possible during regular business hours, people who need to see providers that don’t keep the rare extended hours are not cheating you personally because they “get” to have the care they need.

            Honestly, people, this sense that sick leave is some kind of slick scam that’s unfair to you if you don’t happen to need it is ludicrous. Like I’m getting something sooo great by spending an early morning in a specialist’s office, or I somehow made these specialists’ office hours 9-4 on purpose just to grift a couple hours of that sweet sweet PTO. By all means, take my illness with all its pain and medical bills and heartache if you want the occasional two hours off in the doctor’s office so very badly. I would gladly give it to you. I doubt you would find the trade was in your favor.

            1. Anon for this*

              How’s this for planning ahead? I’m one of those people who uses vacation for doctor’s appointments and all my other life stuff so I don’t get wide-eyed from people who are judgemental about how one is able to schedule appointments (or having appointments at all!). So I don’t have real vacations, and I wind up missing a whole day of work and productivity when just an hour or two would have sufficed *just to* avoid drawing attention to being out for an appointment. Would you rather everyone does that?

              The major drawback of using vacation for appointments is that some employers find it… weird when people schedule one-off vacation days, as though it’s a strange way to use your free time. You’d be surprised how much judgement I’ve gotten for not taking my vacation the normal weeks-off-to-fly-someplace-warm way, even though our vacation policy doesn’t require that. So I don’t win either way and feel terrible about using PTO for what I truly need it for.

              Dealing with the optics of this is a constant stressor – like, do you just forgo medical care because you don’t want to deal with your colleagues judging you for unavoidable weekday appointments? I’ve done that and paid a heavy price in terms of my well-being.

              1. Lissa*

                This seems like an issue with your work culture to me. I have never worked somewhere where “weeks off to fly somewhere warm” is even the majority of how people use vacation, and I think 99% of people would think it’s wildly unreasonable to forgo medical care to avoid people judging you for how many days in a row you take off. If your coworkers are both so judgmental that they won’t let you take off for an hour or two, and also don’t like that you take a day off here and there as opposed to two weeks off in a row… I just don’t think that’s normal or reasonable.

                1. Anon for this*

                  Not my coworkers, my former manager was the issue. There was a lot of weird prescriptivist BS regarding how people used their PTO (and lunch breaks, even). I had a need to use PTO differently than the norm but in a way that was completely within our HR regulations, and former manager singled me out over it as though I was trying to game the system – even though I gave them an early heads-up and asked for their guidance.

                  I had to forgo orthodontic care and related surgery (that would have been scheduled a year out or so) because former boss threw a fit when I asked about how to use PTO to accommodate appointments and recovery time. I’m in a different job now, but the experience has scared me off of making those kinds of plans in fear of wearing down my relationship with my current and future managers…these sorts of experiences will mess you up for a long time.

              2. The Voice of Reason*

                “I’m one of those people who uses vacation for doctor’s appointments and all my other life stuff so I don’t get wide-eyed from people who are judgemental about how one is able to schedule appointments (or having appointments at all!). So I don’t have real vacations…”

                I mean, with due respect, that’s (probably) on you. If you feel that random coworkers are “judging” you for scheduling doctor’s appointments or where you take vacations, that’s a great opportunity to gently remind them to mind their own business. You’re accommodating them instead.

                I’d feel differently if this attitude is coming from senior management, in which case I’d say you have a toxic workplace.

                1. Anon for this*

                  It wasn’t coming from the C-suite; nor was a part of the organization’s overarching culture, which was very pro-work-life balance. It was really just at the department level, driven by then-direct manager’s feelings about how employees used their time; in a lot of ways we were a cultural island.

                  That’s what made the situation particularly tricky to navigate – you know that you would be supported by higher-ups, but you also have to wonder why and how then-direct manager’s departure from the organization’s norms was allowed to continue for as long as it did.

            2. nonymous*

              What I see more often is that people with kids end up using sick days when their kiddos can’t go to school (our area has a rule that kids stay away for 24hrs after a puking event). So my colleague’s kid will puke on Tuesday am and he takes Tuesday & Wednesday off. A lot of times the kid is okay by Tuesday evening, but still isn’t cleared for school so they end up having a fun day together – they’ll go visit relatives an hour or two away or play Legos or go to a museum or something. I get that the kid needs care when he’s not in school and my coworker isn’t available for work, but frankly I’d love a workweek split by hanging out with my favorite young person.

              As my mom gets older, she is becoming more unsure about going to routine medical checkups on her own, to the point of refusing care for years without someone at her side. While my presence is needed, it’s definitely not stressful (or costly) on my end.

    8. Artemesia*

      preserving vacation time while lying about family sick leave is abusive and certainly the boss’s business. It is demoralizing to be a hard worker and have co-workers who are on sports sites all day, yapping about football all day, and not pulling their oar and lying about sick leave to watch football games or go to them. This doesn’t mean the boss should query about the sick leave, because the downside may be greater than the payoff here, but s/he is right to be concerned about it. I agree with Alison that the real issue is a slacker and focusing on their use of time at work is the way to go. And watch the time reporting like a hawk as well.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But assuming the workload of both co-workers are evenly balanced if Football co-worker get all his work done and has some time to take it easy at work doesn’t that mean he is a hard worker as well?

        OP mentioned how one time when they were both co-workers they asked Football co-worker for help and the co-worker did not end up doing what they said they would and also that Football co-worker never helps out the other co-worker.

        I might start to feel resentful if I felt that I worked really hard got everything done only to have to take on co-workers duties every time. Maybe the other co-worker isn’t as good a fit for the job if they are unable to keep up. Again this is assuming workload is evenly balanced.

        1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

          I’ll admit I was wondering this too. Either Football Guy is really efficient, the workloads are not balanced, or the coworker is not effective, or Football Guy is a slacker not doing his work.

          The OP doesn’t mention in the letter that he’s not getting his own work done (or I missed it), but he’s not doing his coworkers work.

          1. OP*

            He generally does, but part of the problem is we don’t have specific metrics in our jobs. We just try to monitor who is busier, and then ask the less busy person to help. But since taking over the manager job, I admit that I’ve been not paying attention as much as I should, and need to do a better job of monitoring.

        2. OP*

          I should mention that they’re both responsible for the same tasks, but we kind of shift responsibilities each week in order to give them some variety. But it’s created a problem, and I need to be more concrete and monitor their workload so I can make it more even. It’s not an efficiency issue, and the other coworker is really great, but I need to set expectations that, if you’re not busy, check in with your coworker to see if she needs help.

      2. nonegiven*

        Do we know he doesn’t have a relative that managed to schedule some minor surgery for the week before Super Bowl Sunday? “Hey mom, if you change your surgery to the other week, I’ll be able to come out and visit.”

    9. Someone else*

      In general priciple, I agree with you, but since the LW here has a decent chunk of info suggesting the guy might be abusing the PTO policy, it’s hardly the case that his time off is “always considered suspect”. Specific things happened to bring it under suspicion! It’s not her business how he’s using sick leave as long as he’s using sick leave for something related to an illness. The other coworker brought up an issue that makes it seem like he’s not using sick leave for sickness, and it’s totally reasonable to want to clarify if that’s the case, that doing so is wrong. The football preoccupation is a separate issue, but is also adds weight to the comment from the other coworker.
      If I don’t care about football at all, and were taking sick leave to go to the location of the superbowl at the same time as the superbowl, it’d not be suspicious. It’d seem like a coincidence. Or if someone made a comment like “wink wink, going to Minneapolis, eh?” I’d be like “huh?” (I didn’t know that’s where the Superbowl is this year until this was posted)
      But if guy who spends an inordinate amount of work time on football-related activities, and has already taken vacation to attend playoff games is taking sick leave at the time of the Superbowl, and it’s known he’s going to the city of the Superbowl for that leave, AND someone says “hey didya hear he is going to the Superbowl?” That’s not boundary crossing to wonder “hey wait, that’s not what sick leave is for”. That’s a very plausible reason for suspicion.

  4. JokeyJules*

    I’m wondering if the family member’s surgery is real or if it was an effort to ensure that they would be granted the time off (because who wants to tell someone “no you can’t go help your family member recuperate after a surgery”). I hope it’s not the latter, because that would be very manipulative.
    I’d let him go this time, to avoid risk of being wrong about your suspicions. However, I’d keep an eye on the other workplace behavior you mentioned. Putting football (or any hobby or interest) before work tasks something worth mentioning on its own.

    1. Not Cathy*

      Is there a way to log employees time spent in leisure websites? Perhaps log how much work he is actually doing?

      1. JokeyJules*

        I wouldn’t want to work somewhere knowing that my time spent on leisure stuff is meticulously monitored and logged.
        If I walked through the office 5 times in a day and noticed 3 or 4 (or 5) of those times he was on an NFL website, I’d mention it that way. Similar phrasing to, “I notice you’re on that website a lot, mind checking with other staff needs help first?” If my supervisor did that for me, I think I’d get the message pretty clearly.

      2. Alariel*

        Old boss had a program on his computer that did just that. It kept track of keystrokes and your web history and any computer activity and took screenshots every so often so that he could look at your screen. It would even spit out all sorts of charts and info with a few clicks, showing how active the employee was, how long it had been since they moved their mouse last, etc.

        There were plenty of tasks that required us to not be using the computer at that time, but he’d call you into the office to demand an explanation for it. We were a very small office, and the main program we did our work on already recorded our work, so it was very easy to tell at a glance who was getting their work done and who wasn’t, so it really wasn’t necessary. The work was also very repetitive (data-entry), so even if you weren’t just trying to glance at the headlines, if you took a minute to just rest your eyes and look away from the computer screen, odds were pretty good that he would yell at you because you stopped working for a second.

        Deeeeep loathing.

        This guy was an awful micromanager, always flying off the handle any time anyone tried to use their sick time or vacation time. Sometimes you would get approval for a few days off and take it w/o issue, but a few months later he would look as our attendance chart and remember you took the days off and decide that those days off weren’t authorized after all, and that now you wouldn’t be getting paid this week to “make it up”.

        1. captain obvs*

          It kept track of keystrokes and your web history and any computer activity and took screenshots every so often so that he could look at your screen. It would even spit out all sorts of charts and info with a few clicks, showing how active the employee was, how long it had been since they moved their mouse last, etc.”

          this is why ipads exist

          1. Not Cathy*

            I meant more blocking certain websites. In my old job Pinterest and Facebook were blocked. But I guess it doesn’t stop him from using a phone for example.

  5. Sara*

    Well the good news is, football season is almost over, so if its a playoff/NFL related slacking off, it should be resolved soon. But its still something to bring up since its so blatantly obvious that he’s distracted and not performing his job properly. Regardless of how his team does, its still something to have a meeting with him about.

    1. JokeyJules*

      My boyfriends family are football enthusiasts, and i assure you there is just as much to focus on in the off season.

      1. Sara*

        Oh for sure, with trades and training camps. But the playoffs with your team is a special beast all its own, so maybe his excitement will wain after its over.

        1. Temperance*

          Doubtful. The kinds of people who waste significant work time reading stuff on sports are not likely to take it down a notch in the off-season.

          I’m a soccer fan. I might check the occasional score at work, but I don’t watch matches at work and spend a ton of time following trades, because it’s a huge time suck. American football is infinitely worse in that respect.

    2. eplawyer*

      The NFL has worked very hard to make sure there is attention on them 12 months out of the year. The Draft has expanded from a weekend event to 4 days. The Super Bowl is now all week parties and events, not just at the site but online too.

      I am taking the day off after the Super Bowl. But 1) I am upfront that is why I am taking it and 2) I’m self-employed so I get to decide my sick days and PTO (mostly sometimes the boss gets cranky).

      The bigger issue is this guy probably has not adjusted to the new normal. The old manager was probably fine with his slacking off. You need to lay the ground rules so everyone knows that ALL the work needs to be done, not just each person’s part of it.

    3. paul*

      For those of us who root for bad teams, the offseasons can actually be *more* fun. We can win the draft!

    4. Snow Man*

      Depending on which team he’s a fan of, this could truly be a once in a lifetime event, not even just a once a year thing. The Jags and the Vikings have never won the Super Bowl before, and going to the Super Bowl is not something I would want to miss either if I had the opportunity. If his team wins the super bowl, my guess is that he could care less about any discipline that’s coming his way assuming 1) he was lying about his sick family and 2) he did get talked to about it. Him being as big of a fan as OP mentioned, a super bowl victory is definitely worth any sort of “talking to” at work.

      Guy is committing a cardinal sin though: your team has to win the conference championship first. Don’t look too far ahead!

      1. realist*

        I think it’s one of two things: either this, or he really has a sick relative in Minneapolis and is going to the Super Bowl at the same time.

        And if it is this, I really am not inclined to judge him. I give some leeway to things that are truly once-in-a-lifetime events.

  6. Namelesscommentator*

    address the not doing his share of the work as a performance issue, and treat the PTO issue as part of this.

    Sick time is part of his benefits package that should be there for him to use – so I’d be cautious of setting an example of being picky over sick time. HR being picky over this during a family emergency is the cause of many people leaving in one of my precious jobs. (Though the employee in question in that case had ample documentation & no work ethic concerns, so you may not have the same staff revolt — by do be cautious.)

    1. Penny*

      My former workplace being picky over leave/reluctant to let me use my vacation time was definitely a factor in me leaving too.

    2. BethRA*

      If you have to pay out unused vacation, but not sick leave, this is not just “HR being picky” – it has a financial impact on the organization.

      1. Mediamaven*

        Exactly. It’s easy to feel like it’s nit picky when it’s not your money that’s paying for it.

        1. Autumnheart*

          It IS your money paying for it. Companies aren’t handing out paychecks as acts of charity. They’re compensating people in exchange for their labor. And you have to pay out unused vacation because it’s earned compensation for labor that was already performed.

      2. namelesscommentator*

        The family emergency was the sudden death of a parent’s partner (who had raised coworker since childhood), bereavement denied because of lack of marriage license, sick-time denied because it should fall under bereavement. This was a month after vacation had been zeroed out, at HR’s approval, on account of the sick time available for emergencies.

        Picky was, perhaps, too generous a word to use — this was HR going in circles to deny PTO to someone who had just lost their father. And I don’t the OP risks doing this — but it’s a fine line to walk from outside optics, and one that I would be cautious of.

        1. BethRA*

          Sorry, I wasn’t referring to your situation specifically – I certainly didn’t mean to slight your experience.

        2. LCL*

          They took away the employees’ accrued vacation? Then denied emergency leave for bereavement? Picky was way too generous. I’m thinking a 4 letter word-EVIL. But there are other 4 letter words that apply.

  7. B*

    To play devils advocate – has his colleague specifically asked him to help when she is overwhelmed or is she waiting for him to offer his help? If she has asked him and he says no that is a very different story than if she is just waiting for him to offer. If she wants his help, she needs to ask for it or you as a manager need to redistribute the amount of work she is taking on.

    As well, some of this sounds a bit like sour grapes so I would look internally. You are not happy about having to do two jobs while he is not as busy. Again, redistribute the workload as best you can to help alleviate that issue.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree that either the coworker or OP need to ask him for his help instead of expecting him to offer. If they’re both excellent or high-achieving coworkers, I can see why they’d be frustrated by his failure to offer help or fulfill expectations when he is asked to help. But I do think they need to ask (at a minimum, OP should intercede in workload distribution as the manager) and set clear expectations.

      1. Snark*

        Agreed. A high-performing employee does not actually need to be told, but I think part of the conversation needs to be, “I need you to be engaged and proactive in taking additional work if your docket is clear, because Jane has a high load right now. When you’re available, I expect you to get with her and see what you can take off her plate.”

        Expectations, no matter how obvious they should be, need to be explicitly laid out – if for no other reason than to give ’em enough rope.

        1. Mike C.*

          You don’t become a mind-reader when you’re a high performing employee. I don’t have any visibility of my coworkers projects so there’s no way I’m going to know what their workload is, regardless of my overall performance in the workplace.

          1. Natalie*

            Yeah, just generally speaking there’s too much variety in how offices function (both in deliberate processes and in the personalities of people in them) to say someone should always behave a certain way when they have extra time. If the LW has specific expectations of her employee in this regard, no time like the present to make them very clear, and then see how he responds.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              I agree. I work with a lot of rockstars and while we’ll help each other out when one person is under water, you have to ask for it and give specific tasks. That’s not the case in other places or even other groups within the same company. I don’t think there’s a universal correct thing here.

          2. Colette*

            Typically, high-performing employees get their own work done and then look for ways to help out the business in other ways. You may not know if someone has too much work to do, but you do know when you have free time to help out.

            1. Mike C.*

              Right, and for me “helping the business in other ways” means things like automating my own work and picking up new skills, not going around to my coworkers and asking if they need help. They’re going to be spending more time bringing me up to speed than they’ll gain from my help and if there’s really an issue my lead will redirect me anyway.

              I’m trying to show that that these aren’t absolutes – different offices work differently.

              1. Snark*

                This is really what I’m getting at: if you’re idle, you find other ways to lean in, be useful and contribute to the work you’re paid to do. You don’t piss off an afternoon on your own hobbies.

                1. LBK*

                  Right, I think the point is that at no point does a high-performing employee generally think “well, everything is totally and completely done, so I truly have nothing else I can do except surf the internet or go home.” If you don’t have your own pet projects to work on to fill the time once your main workload is complete, I do think it’s incumbent on you to at least ask your manager if there’s anything else that needs attention, even if you don’t go to your coworkers directly.

      2. OP*

        Yes – she hasn’t really been asking, but I did mention to her recently to ask him for help with she needs it. He has appeared to step up, but I need to be more proactive because I can’t always expect her to do that. Sometimes you’re so busy that you don’t even have time to ask or know what someone can help with.

    2. Roscoe*

      Totally agree. I’m not a fan of expecting people to WANT more work. I’m happy to help out when asked, but I don’t know that it should be an expectation that if someone feels over worked that I offer to do more. But this also depends on the team.

      1. Snark*

        Oh, totally disagree. It has nothing to do with expecting people to want more work; nobody wants it, but if there’s work that needs done, you do. If your coworker is buried and you’ve got a slow afternoon or day or week, I think it’s a totally reasonable expectation that you proactively load-balance. You’re at work to work, my dude – you’re not at work to do your solely own tasks as originally assigned to you and no more unless someone notices you’re free and pretty-please begs you to take some.

        1. Roscoe*

          Again, I think it depends on your team and how much the work is “team work that needs to be done” vs. individual things people are working on. I’m in sales. None of us are willingly giving up our commission for it.

          1. OP*

            I mentioned this in an earlier comment, but our team really values teamwork. But that is a really vague concept, and for someone like him who doesn’t seem to “get it,” I need to be clear about actions that illustrate teamwork. So I could tell him that I expect him to check in if he has nothing to do to see if there’s anything he can help with. I can check in with both staff more regularly to see what they’re working on, and divide the work evenly (so they don’t need to figure it out between themselves). We’ve never really had this issue with previous employees, but now I see that I need to be more concrete. So, Roscoe, while I respect your opinion – it actually is an expectation on our team. We are not in sales – in that field, I totally get that you do your own work. Our work is very different, and we NEED all hands on deck.

        2. Mike C.*

          That’s fine and may work for the industry/job position you’re in, but at the same time the coworker could have said something and the manager could have reassigned work to deal with load balancing. Unless this is something that has been discussed previously it seems to me to be more of a process issue than work ethic.

        3. Shiara*

          It also sounds like he does get asked (or at least OP did when they were peers) and then he still… doesn’t do the work.

        4. Sylvan*

          I don’t really agree here. I’ve asked people if they needed help when I was free and they seemed overwhelmed, of course, but I’m not going to take on someone else’s responsibilities by default.

        5. paul*

          Some of it depends on the nature workload too; I can’t just jump in and handle coworker’s clients after my reports are done or go to a meeting for another coworker on a community initiative I’m not in the loop on, at least not without some warning and background.

          1. Snark*

            But does it, really? Ignore the specifics. Is there anywhere it’s just ducky to routinely waste an afternoon on your own hobby instead of finding some way to be productive on something?

              1. LBK*

                If you can’t find any of your own tasks to work on, what do you think the expectation should be? It seems natural to me that asking around to see if there’s anything you can help out with. I guess it does depend slightly on the type of work being done (sales, as noted above, is a little different since you’re in direct competition with your coworkers so you’re not going to jump on their call list or anything). But generally speaking it’s kind of shocking to me how many people find it galling to expect that if they have nothing else to do, they would ask if there’s anyone they can help out.

                1. Editor*

                  I’m sorry, but you just don’t appear to be responding to what I, specifically, have said. It varies by industry and within industry if it’s kosher to approach someone in the weeds and say “I’M really free! Do you want some help?” Sales is an exception and there are plenty of others. Should you be openly slacking at work? No. But “taking the initiative” to pitch in with other people’s projects is not always going to be the solution to that. It doesn’t seem to me that that’s a shocking or controversial statement unless someone is thinking very narrowly about their own field and position.

            1. Natalie*

              Sure, there’s even a name for it in labor law: “engaged to wait”. Sometimes there really isn’t other stuff to do.

        6. STG*

          I’m not sure that I agree with this. It seems like it’s punishing people who are efficient by expecting them to do part of someone else’s job. It seems logical that they’ll just stop working as hard on their own to insure that they don’t have the ‘free time’ next time.

          1. Roscoe*

            That’s my concern. If you are more efficient, or frankly someone else is just slower, why should you have to do 1.5 x your workload to compensate for them.

        7. CheeryO*

          Not even remotely true in my job – the work ebbs and flows, but what’s yours is yours, and you’re not expected to take on anyone else’s unless it’s a good training opportunity/P.E. fodder. It would be very weird to offer to take some work off of my coworker’s plate.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      “If she wants his help, she needs to ask for it…”

      I agree. We’d all like to think that people operate the same way we do, in that if we see someone needs help, we offer instead of waiting to be asked. But not everyone operates like that. Lots of people think, “Well, if Sally needs help she will ask because that’s how I would handle it.” And some people don’t even notice when someone else is overwhelmed and is waiting for someone to offer help.

      If she asks and he says no, then that’s an issue you need to dig into. If she hasn’t asked, then tell her she needs to start asking. If she’s not comfortable with asking, then you’ll need to figure out a solution.

      1. tigerlily*

        And also, being overwhelmed and needing help aren’t always the same thing. I have a coworker, for example, who’s fairly new and we’re in a slow period for her position so she has a good bit of downtime. I, on the other hand, am in one of my busiest times. I feel fairly overwhelmed right now. Sometimes when she has nothing to do she’ll ask if I have anything she can help with. But other times, she’ll take out a book and sit at her desk and read. It would never occur to me to be annoyed or think she’s not being a team player during those times that she’s not offering to help me.

    4. Allison*

      I would also add that if I’m having a slow day and some of my neighboring coworkers are pulling out their hair, I might sympathize but while we’re on the same team we don’t do the same job, I don’t know how to do their jobs or use the systems they use, and if they’re busy they probably can’t pause and train me, I’d need to be proactively cross-trained.

      1. Mike C.*

        This is a big one for me. Also, if I’m having a slow week I might spend that time doing training or just taking it a little easier because the previous week was nuts.

      2. LBK*

        But I still don’t think it hurts to ask. I have plenty of times when my coworkers or even my manager will ask if they can help out with anything and I say no because it will take me more time to explain what needs to be done than to just do it; that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the asking and that sometimes I can’t find small pieces of it for them to work on that can be done in a vacuum/without context that will still help me get through my overall workload.

    5. BethRA*

      She did specifically ask: “I personally observed it having an effect on some tasks I had asked him to help me with.” She also specifically cited an example where he agreed to help her, but didn’t follow through and left her scrambling.

      That aside, I think peers are often quite aware when they’re getting extra work because a colleague is slacking, and I don’t think it’s “sour grapes” to resent it.

    6. nnn*

      Building on this, it might be worth stating specific expectations for what the team should do about when their workload runs low.

      For example, my employer made a rule saying to email a certain list of people when you’re down to half a day of work (our work is reasonably quantifiable that way), then again if you get down to no work. Not only does this let people redistribute work as appropriate and prevent situations where people are either underreporting a work shortage or constantly nagging others for work, it also provides a guideline for what constitutes Sufficient Diligence about seeking out more work if you’re running low. If you’ve sent the required emails and you have no work so now you’re sitting around on the internet, that’s fine, you’ve done your due diligence. If you haven’t sent the required emails, the manager can point to the rule you’ve broken if they want to move towards disciplinary measures.

      1. kitryan*

        If workflow and the team structure allow for this approach (as they do at nnn’s workplace) this is an excellent solution. As I can do 100% of our team’s work and the other team member can do 75% of our team’s work this may be something I can adapt for us!
        I never get to finish my to-do list and I’ve often stopped by his desk to see him watching you tube videos. As a lot of the more ‘basic’ work we do is submission based, I don’t have an issue with him taking a little break between submissions to clear his head, I would like to see him check in more frequently when there is more significant downtime so I can assign him more projects. It’s tough for me to actively monitor him when I’m immersed in my own set of projects.
        This would be good for me (getting my workload to be more manageable) and good for him, as he has not demonstrated as much initiative and independent thinking as the company would like and this would give him a set procedure to follow which he tends to do better with.
        Thanks nnn for giving me a new idea to work with! (for your amusement, autocorrect has changed ‘nnn’ to both ‘inn’ and ‘nun’ in this comment)

    7. turquoisecow*

      I’m kind of torn on this. On the one hand, yes, coworker should ask NFL guy for help if she needs it. But as she is not his manager, and doesn’t have any authority over him, she doesn’t know what he’s working on or if he’s able to assist. If she asks and he makes up some BS excuse, she has no recourse. The best thing to do would be to let the manger know that she’s overwhelmed. Which she has. It’s then the manager’s responsibility to reassign tasks as necessary (if needed), because the manager would know if NFL guy is actually not working on something. I don’t know my coworkers’ workload, so I might assume that he was unable to help me.

      Also, do you really want an employee who finishes his work (assuming he’s finished) and then sits there looking at NFL sites all day (while getting paid!)? Or would you rather have one who finishes his tasks and then goes to either his coworkers or manager and says “hey, I’m done with my work, what can I help out on?” Anytime I’ve had any downtime at work, I feel like there must be something I’ve neglected, so I go back over my usual list of tasks to make sure there’s nothing I’ve forgotten, and then I go to my boss and ask if there’s something else I should be doing, or have forgotten to do. Sometimes this meant I got a new task, and sometimes this meant I was asked to help out a coworker.

      I really don’t want – as an employee or a coworker – a guy who finishes his works and sits there twiddling his thumbs or goofing while others are swamped with tasks that he could easily help with. I don’t think the blame for that is at all on the coworkers.

    8. Bostonian*

      This depends on the industry and specific culture of that workplace.

      Yes, these expectations need to be clear, but I’ve worked in a place where it was UNDERSTOOD that if you finish your bench work early, you go to another bench and see if someone needs help because TURNAROUND TIME IS 8AM GOSHDARNIT!

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    I feel like part of the issue is the company’s policy that favors taking sick days over vacation days. If I were managing someone who doesn’t get sick often, and she took the occasional sick day that was obviously a personal day, I would turn a blind eye — although I do think lying about a family health issue to schedule a multi-day trip crosses the line into unacceptable.

    1. Natalie*

      I agree with you on someone taking an occasional day, but it sounds like this isn’t that occasional for this employee – assuming his team makes it to the Super Bowl he wants to take between 3-5 Mondays off (depending on wild card and/or Pro Bowl) in the span of a month. Assuming the company is otherwise reasonable and January isn’t their busy season, IMO he would be better suited to just be up front about the fact that he’s a giant Canton Bulldogs fan and wants to do this.

      For what it’s worth, in a PTO bucket system I’ve seen the opposite issue, where people come into work sick because they want to save their “vacation”.

      1. Ten*

        And that is precisely why I despise PTO systems. Whenever I interview I’m half-tempted to ask the hiring manager for the company’s stance on presenteeism.

        1. LCL*

          Every PTO system I have heard of for non-exempt employees grants substantially less leave time than traditional vacation and sick time arrangements.

  9. Mike C.*

    My plan is to let him take the rest of the time off, and if he is lying, and his team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl, I will wait to see what his excuse will be if he cancels the time off request (or maybe he’ll just stick with the original story).

    I want to caution you here – surgeries can easily be rescheduled or even cancelled based on the nature of the surgery and the condition of the patient.

    1. The OG Anonsie*

      Ohhh yes, I didn’t even think of this. My dad’s complicated neurosurgery was rescheduled something like 5 times, 2 of those being within the same week. Once he showed up to the hospital and they moved his surgery to the next day.

    2. Betty (the other betty)*

      Or for the surgeon getting tickets to the SuperBowl.

      Sorry, couldn’t resist. But I wouldn’t be surprised if non-critical procedures are sometimes delayed for reasons like this.

  10. ENFP in Texas*

    I would NOT make any reference to the fact that “someone mentioned you were going to the Super Bowl” – to me that is just asking to stir up trouble between co-workers as he tries to figure out who “ratted him out”.

    1. Penny*

      Agreed. It would also look bad as a manager to use office gossip as part of a discussion about performance.

    2. Lumen*

      I agree with this. It was the part of Allison’s answer that made me wince; even if this doesn’t sow discord between coworkers, it’s not going to do anything positive for the already strained relationship between the the OP and the employee in question. It’s a ‘nicey-nice’ way of saying “I think you’re lying/I suspect you/you’re doing it wrong” (or that is how I think it will come across).

      I’d much rather see the OP focus on the employee’s performance AT WORK and not what they are doing with their time off. I’m not even sure the OP is wrong to suspect the employee (it sounds dodgy), but approaching it from what’s going on at the office rather than what may or may not be going on when the employee isn’t at the office gives the OP a much stronger position.

  11. Lily in NYC*

    An easy option would be to start requiring proof when people take family sick leave. My office gave me time off to help my mom when my dad was dying, but they required documentation from my dad’s doctor (I’m not talking about FMLA, this was different). Way too many people were abusing the perk in order to get time off. They started requiring documentation after my coworker took a month off to take her mother to the doctor once a week.

    1. Morning Glory*

      I can see this being a reaction to several people abusing the system. It seems unfair to create a new policy because of one individual who is only maybe abusing the system.

    2. the gold digger*

      My company has recently converted our personal days to sick days and requires a doctor’s note for more than two consecutive sick days.

      The great news is that now we will also be paid OT for the Sundays and evenings we spend traveling. For the 12 hours we are stuck in DTW when our flight to Seattle is delayed. For the times we are at the ferry terminal at 5:30 a.m.

      Hahahaha. I joke. We will not get OT or comp time.

    3. Snark*

      “An easy option would be to start requiring proof when people take family sick leave.”

      Hard disagree. This is one of those things you need to be able to trust your employees to be adults about – and if you can’t, then that’s an issue with that employee, not about the policy in general.

    4. Natalie*

      This runs into the same issue that requiring proof for employee sick time does – if your elderly mom or kid is under the weather but doesn’t require medical attention, do you now have to bring them to a doctor just to get the time off?

      1. Lily in NYC*

        This isn’t regular sick leave – it sounds like OP’s company has a specific perk with FMLA-like leave. I don’t think proof should be required for regular sick leave, but for a specific program? Hell yes.

        1. Natalie*

          Hmmm, maybe – I took to it to mean that any time off due to a relative’s health issue was charged to sick time even though the employee themself isn’t sick, which has been fairly common in most places I’ve worked.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think it could be either given the letter’s phrasing, but it sounds like family sick leave is a standalone thing in more workplaces than I realized. I’m wondering how that plays out–does the non-family sick day number tend to be lower as a consequence, do they have different payout policies, etc.

      2. Doreen*

        I use my regular sick leave for family sick leave, and the rules are essentially the same which means I need medical documentation for more than three consecutive days. ( so I don’t need documentation if my kid has an upset stomach or my husband needs to be driven to and from a colonoscopy). The one difference is that for family sick leave the documentation must include a statement that I was needed to care for the sick family member – it’s not enough for the note to say my child or my husband or my mother is incapacitated for a week or two.

    5. Mike C.*

      This sort of policy is incredibly offensive. The fact that your coworker was allowed a month off is a management issue, not something that grieving people should have to deal with.

      I think the problems at your workplace are much more fundamental.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Incredibly offensive to require documentation for an FMLA-like program? You are so predictable – my workplace is NOT problematic and you are making assumptions.

        1. Mike C.*

          You’re moving goalposts. The specific example you made was of your workplace demanding proof that your father was dying and needed care, not the FMLA-type program you’ve only mentioned in your later responses to others. Somehow my workplace was able to get along just fine with my word that my mother had died without demanding documentation.

          Also, I’m not sure why you’re so angry with me when a whole bunch of other people have made very similar comments. Health privacy is really important.

      2. Forrest*

        ” The fact that your coworker was allowed a month off is a management issue”

        Yes, and they’re fixing it by implementing this system. It’s not outrageous or offensive to ask for documentation for a long term leave. Lily in NYC compared it to FMLA because it is a FMLA type program. She’s clearly not talking about getting a week off but long term leave.

        I think asking for documentation for a day or two is silly. But for long term leave? I’m not sure how you can argue with that. T

        And health privacy is important but it’s not like you’re telling the whole company.

        And I understand why Lily in NYC called you predictable – you often seem to have an issue with looking at things from an outside prospective. Everything seems to tie back to you.

    6. Shiara*

      I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that I should have to disclose my mother’s personal medical information to my employer so that I can prove that I need time off to go help her out after she’s had surgery, or that that is an “easy” option.

      While I’m sure that you’re not thinking of anything drastic as “proof”, that’s the place this sort of escalation leads. If my employer can’t trust my word for it, then what sort of out-of-state doctor’s note on official letterhead am I going to have to provide them, and how much of a pain is getting that going to be when I have other things on my mind?

        1. Shiara*

          FMLA is a standard, routine process that every doctor’s office and every employer large enough to have eligible employees has processes in place to deal with. There are also clear outlines for what sort of information the employer is and is not allowed to ask for and standardised forms.

          It’s a completely different situation from the employer’s arbitrary policy where they have already demonstrated that the “proof” they require is a moving target.

        2. Mediamaven*

          Agreed. I don’t see an issue with requiring some sort of proof for an extended absence. Pretty easy to show without diving deep into medical specifics.

        3. turquoisecow*

          It’s incredibly different. If I’m going to take a few days off to care for a relative after surgery, this should easily be covered under my employer’s sick or even PTO time. FMLA would not be required. FMLA is generally used for longer periods of time, like a chronic illness or extended surgery recovery. Excessive paperwork and “proof” are required because it’s a government procedure.

          It’s understandable that if I want to be out for three weeks to help my mother recover from a broken hip, they’d want some extra paperwork to prove this, otherwise anyone could claim this and take three weeks off with pay. It’s NOT understandable that they should require proof because I got the stomach flu and spent two days in the bathroom, but didn’t bother to see a doctor because all the doctor would do would be to advise bed rest and over the counter medication (which I know because I’ve had the stomach flu a number of times) and charge me money.

          1. Natalie*

            It’s also worth noting that excessive paperwork and proof are not actually required for FMLA, they’re merely *allowed* by the law. There’s nothing preventing employers from just taking their employee’s word and not firing them for taking medical leave.

            1. The OG Anonsie*


              Also worth noting that an appointment to complete this type of documentation isn’t typically covered by your insurance and you have to pay cash. Some offices have a more affordable fee for them, some don’t. Usually they can’t be lumped into an existing appointment because it takes time to do the paperwork. So asking for documentation like this actually means that, on top of whatever this person is already dealing with, they have to go to (perhaps dealing with transport issues around themselves or the person they’re caring for) an additional appointment and pay for that provider time out of pocket. Which doesn’t mean it’s never appropriate, but when you ask for it you have to consider that you’re not just asking for a quickie “Jane was sick” note.

      1. WellRed*

        I have a friend who used FMLA to care for her mom. Her crappy HR person demanded a dr note frim the moms dr before she could come back to work. I think my friend escalated the matter because it was so ridiculous.

          1. fposte*

            It’s not strange since the leave was FMLA. As Natalie notes, the law doesn’t require it but it does allow it, and I suspect it’s pretty standard at any place big enough to have standardized FMLA policies; it’s required at my big workplace.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Same. The company should trust that I’m an adult and I’m not lying about needing sick time. I don’t want to see a doctor every time I’m sick, and I don’t want to go into detail about why I need the time. All this will do is encourage people to come to work sick.

    7. CatCat*

      Ugh, I would hate this. Too much personal information. I’d also take it as a sign that the employer does not trust me. That’s usually what happens when management can’t be bothered to deal with the actual individuals that are the problem and instead dumps this kind of thing on everyone.

    8. Sunflower*

      It’s confusing because I’m not sure if employee is just taking sick days or if he’s using some sort of extended leave policy the company has set up. And do they offer unlimited sick days or do they just come out of a different pot that aren’t paid out when you leave?

      Agreeing with you, I think if it’s an extended leave policy, it’s not wild to require some sort of documentation- especially if we are talking about paid sick days. Remember FMLA is not required to be paid. If it’s just regular sick days then let it go.

  12. Kay*

    Maybe OP’s employee is related to the letter writer who lied about taking time off for the eclispe and royally screwed over one of his coworkers who had booked the day off months in advance.I know

    1. OP*

      Kay – not related, but I read that letter! That’s why I felt comfortable writing in about this concern, because it’s kind of related.

  13. Erin*

    I was going to suggest watching his social media during the Super Bowl to see if he’s there, but since he might be doing that in conjunction with taking care of a relative…that’s tough. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s much you can do here except take him at his word unless you have solid proof.

    I’d focus more on the other stuff – the football websites at work, not being helpful when you’re short staffed, etc. – and take disciplinary action there if need be. I’m predicting he gets away with this one, but his work ethic will catch up to him in another way at some point.

    1. Roscoe*

      This just seems like so much of an invasion of privacy to me. I mean, maybe you shouldn’t expect to be completely private, but I can’t see Facebook stalking someone to catch them in a lie at work. Its one thing if you are friends and you happen to notice something. Its totally different to go out of your way to do this.

      1. Erin*

        Hm, I don’t totally disagree. I have mixed feelings about this, but don’t want to derail the convo for the OP since it’s kind of a moot point.

    2. OP*

      Thanks Erin – you are totally right. I’m totally open to the fact that I might be a little petty here, and just focus on the work ethic issue.

      1. Kate 2*

        OP I am so glad you seem to have changed your mind about this.

        Sometimes when I am sick I have to leave the house to see the doctor, go to the pharmacy, or even buy groceries because there is literally nothing in my house to eat. I live near my office, so I am always afraid a coworker or boss will see me and throw a fit. But I have to do these things, even though or because I am sick.

        Sometimes I have a migraine for hours, but manage to get rid of it. If I had something fun planned after work before I had the migraine, I don’t want to not go because it might give the appearance that I wasn’t sick. Because I was! But it is something I worry about.

        If his number of sick days rises to a problem I would address that, but otherwise I would leave it alone. You don’t want people feeling harassed or like they can’t use sick days.

        1. OP*

          I’m sorry that that’s something you worry about. I hope you can find a workplace that’s more understanding. Doing all the things you mentioned is part of your care! And as I mentioned, I would NEVER EVER pry on someone who was using sick leave. It was the potential lying based on what I heard – that leads to situations where people become suspect of everyone – that was the problem. I wanted to be extra careful here, because it he’s telling the truth, I would feel like the worst person ever if I questioned it. I hope you can get more support for your health issues and feel like you’re not under attack for taking care of yourself.

    3. The OG Anonsie*

      Yeah you have to be careful with this. I took bereavement leave to travel for a funeral, and in the time I had around it I went around and saw the city and went to a bunch of museums. If you went by my IG, where I kept the grief private and just shared pretty photos, you might assume I was trying to pull one over.

      1. Erin*

        I agree, and people can post pictures after the fact and not in real time, etc. But the Super Bowl is at specific time. But again, it’s admittedly a moot point, as he could in theory attend the game and help a relative too and would morally be in the clear.

      2. OP*

        For some people, going to museums can be part of your self-care to deal with your grief, so I think that’s very understandable. I’m sorry for your loss.

  14. SleeplessInLA*

    As someone whose former boss was suspicious of every PTO day (she questioned me taking a day off b/c we had unusually nice weather which was just a coincidence), the tone of this letter is really, really frustrating. Bottom line is that your employee is distracted and putting his work tasks on the back burner over football so I’d figure out how you want to address that and drop your “investigation” over PTO vs sick days.

    An employees earned paid time off days are just that. Sure, most companies frown on using the days interchangeably but 1. it’s not uncommon and 2. the dynamic you create when you question things like that is that you’re accusatory and don’t trust your employee so w/o hard evidence you risk damaging that relationship forever and having someone on your team that resents you. It’s not worth it.

    1. Turkletina*

      That’s sounds so petty. Why would it even matter if you decided to use your PTO to take advantage of nice weather?

      1. fposte*

        Last-minute callouts can be a problem. That being said, they can also be fine, so I’m not opposed on principle.

      2. SleeplessInLA*

        It shouldn’t! Lol. It was a very cold weather state though so I’m assuming this was a habit of peers that I wasn’t aware of.

    2. MissingArizona*

      I live in Washington state, and whenever the sun came out over half our staff would call out. We’d just call it “sun sickness”, the supervisors did it just as much as regular staff, so it was hard to come down on.

      1. Not Cathy*

        What about meeting with the employee and discussing his current workload and getting on the same page first? Determining his level of work and how to keep him engaged. If the slacking off continues than focus on that? Giving him a friendly heads up and expressing your thoughts before jumping ahead?

  15. RML*

    Sometimes I read questions like this and it contributes to my anxiety that taking time to myself at work means I’m not a top contributor. Checking Facebook a few times a day, a personal call, etc. I often feel like I’m “caught” when someone sees me texting or I talk to someone for 20 minutes about something not work related, but I feel like that doesn’t give a full picture of my actual workload and work ethic. I give work a LOT of my *personal* time outside of the 9-5 day, by having a work phone that I check regularly in my off hours, by accommodating global time zone issues with early or late calls and emails, by working late whenever my workload demands it (which is very frequently), by taking on projects no one else has room for, by working weekends when I’m overloaded and feel like I’ll never catch up. So sometimes I take a little back for myself during the workday. Work always wins in the end and gets more of my personal time than I get out of work time, so I don’t see a problem. But I still get THE GUILT.

    I don’t mean to suggest that this guy IS necessarily a perfect worker, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of a manager who assumes work ethic problems when a person is checking a sports site during the work day or talking about football, or using his PTO for football.

    This part grabbed me: “To give an example, he once told me he’d help me with a task before I became his manager, and when I checked to see the progress he’d made on the task, I saw him looking at an NFL website and NOT doing the task. I ended up having to scramble to get it done, and he could see I was visibly annoyed. It was early in the morning, so I know he wasn’t on a lunch break.”

    I wasn’t there so I don’t know what actually happened, but I once had a manager who’d ask me to do something but not give any direction or guidance on time frame, and when questioned would give some vague noncommittal answer, so I’d prioritize it against my other work and move forward. Which may mean, doing 2 high priority tasks, taking a 10 min coffee break, getting started on the favor task from boss, checking facebook, finishing some urgent thing, then completing the favor task in the last 2 hours of the day. If he saw me 2 minutes that day and it happened to be on the coffee break, he’d immediately jump to “She isn’t taking this seriously and I have to do it myself UGH.” When in reality, it’s completely under control and will be done EOD, even though no deadline or urgency was provided. I have no way of knowing what happened in the letter writer’s situation but based on how it’s written, it’s possible that she just expected he do this task immediately when he had every intention of getting it done by lunch and could easily complete it for her.

    I get that it’s different in different workplaces, so maybe I’m totally off base, but I think a person should be judged on the quality of their work and overall management of workload rather than on how they spend every single minute of the day. Maybe he DOES have a work ethic problem, but based on the examples in the letter, I’m not necessarily seeing it – he may just manage time differently, and need a talk about how he should be helping the other team members on their task as part of his role, if he completes his own work faster than time allotted during the work day. (That’s not necessarily intuitive to some people – I’ve worked with a lot of people who complete their assigned work faster than other people, and don’t necessarily jump to take on more because the way they see it, we all had equal work and they’re just faster than everyone else.) Again – maybe that doesn’t apply to this guy because maybe he’s shown that overall, he doesn’t get his work done and doesn’t carry the same share of work that his colleagues carry. That is an issue and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. I just would hate to be judged by my manager on the 15 min she may see me on Facebook in the morning while I’m waiting for some files to upload or because I’ve just finished a really demanding task and I need to clear my head for a few before jumping into the next one, you know?

    1. OP*

      I really appreciate that comment, and I’m NOT trying to be that horrible micromanaging, judge-y manager (although I think I’m failing based on the comments). For the one task I mentioned, I had given him a decent description of the deadline. I won’t go into a ton of specifics, because I’ll be commenting all day, and it’s possible that I wasn’t specific enough, but I felt like he understood the expectation. But I know now that I need to set more clear expectations going forward about workload, and things like asking his coworker if she needs help with anything BEFORE checking Facebook, etc.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t see any signs that you’re being horrible or micromanaging. I do see signs that you need to more explicitly lay out your expectations for how you want him to operate and what you want him to do differently (but that’s true of most managers, frankly). But I think it’s totally understandable that you’re wondering about this particular leave request, given the rest of the context you’ve described! I just think you need to focus more on the bigger issues with him.

      2. RML*

        Let me just say that my comment shows clear bias based on my own experiences, so I don’t mean to imply that you’re the same kind of judgy micromanager that my own previous boss was! I wanted to kind of present an alternative view point, and based on your letter I wasn’t totally sure if you also saw that viewpoint. It sounds like you do.

        Frequently here I feel like commenters jump on something that may not be present in the letter and expand on it, and the original poster has to go to every comment and justify their letter. Like, “I didn’t include it in my letter because it didn’t feel pertinent at the time, and if I included every detail the letter would’ve been 200 pages long so…” :)

        I think your plan of addressing expectations about workload and helping out the team when workload is lighter is awesome, and hopefully will clear up the bulk of these issues. That stuck out to me as one of the main issues – not the sports sites or the talking about sports, but either a lack of understanding or an intentional unwillingness to prioritize teamwork when faced with some free time at work. It may be as simple as just laying it down as a clear expectation! Then if it’s still occurring, you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s a work ethic issue, or just a misunderstanding about workload balancing and teamwork. :)

        Hope to hear a follow-up on this one! :)

      3. Bea*

        The problem is you’re seemingly expecting him to be working at all the time without stopping to reset his mind by looking at facebook or grabbing a cup of coffee. Most office jobs do not adhere to the 2 tens and a 30 minute lunch, so it’s hard to not see an issue with your current line of thinking with him.

        I’ll finish a task, take a moment to look at Instagram and see news headlines then head back to the grind. It refreshes my energy and focus. If I just go task after task to task and then going to do someone else’s tasks because they need a hand and then to help Sally with her overload etc. Only stopping for a lunch break, if I’m lucky enough to remember that it’s lunch time, I burn out and hate my job quickly.

        Unless you’re on a deadline or in production on the manufacturing floor, every minute shouldn’t have to be accounted for.

        It’s also slippery when you expect others who have their work done to jump on in and do bonus work while playing it out to just being a team player. You will start breeding resentment and may lose an otherwise dedicated worker going too heavily down that road.

        I think you’re doing right by thinking it over and asking for advice. I’m just giving you my perspective from someone who’s been burntout and done with similar expectations of “work until the mandated breaks and then get back to work…even if it’s someone else’s work.”

    2. turquoisecow*

      I’m with you in that I do a few personal things while I’m at work (like read AAM on my phone, check facebook, read personal email) in between tasks. And I’ve been made to feel like a slacker for spending ten minutes chatting with a coworker about personal things (while everyone else was also goofing off, but I digress). And occasionally my grandboss or great-grandboss will walk by as I’m slacking off, and then I wonder if he secretly things I’m a total slacker because I’m always having personal conversations when he walks by. Sigh.

      It’s also true that some people, when swamped with work, are visibly stressed out, and some other people in the same situation will just calmly go about their business and not alter their overall demeanor in the slightest, which tends to upset the visibly stressed out people, because they think the calm people are not taking things seriously enough.

      Interesting perspective, thanks for bringing that up. I kind of suspect that the OP has done more due diligence than casual observance, but your points are good ones.

  16. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

    I think the LW needs to mentally let go of some of the work ethic issues (hear me out).

    Transitions from coworker/peer are tough, coworkers know much more intimately the work habits of their peers than a manager knows of their reports. I don’t think it’s fair to hold someone accountable as a manager something that I learned or observed as a peer. Let’s be honest, there are differences in how you show yourself to your boss vs. a coworker on your team. That doesn’t mean that I would totally forget these past issues, but I would wait for patterns observed as a manager. Note, that this easier said than done, but essentially you want to avoid the “Aha I’m your manager now so I can address all of those things that drove me batty when we were peers” trap.

    The tone I’m reading into the original letter is that the OP is heading into BEC territory. That’s my interpretation based on the LW sort of building a case against the employee and the fact that they mention they are wondering about the same.

    Skol Vikings! – sorry had to slip this in here since the LW is gunning for a loss :) –

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Ha! I don’t think the Vikings are necessarily the team in question, especially since the fan would need to travel to the Superbowl (i.e., he doesn’t live in MN).

      And yes: Skol!

      I wish I wasn’t such a chicken about renting out my house on AirBNB; I could make a fortune on Superbowl weekend.

      1. Sara*

        I was reading it as the Jaguars for some reason, but that might be my own personal preference coloring the letter. I’m really hoping for a Vikings v Jaguars game.

        1. Joan Callamezzo*

          Huge The Good Place fan here, so when I started reading the letter I was all “OMG her employee is Jason Mendoza!”

        2. Bostonian*

          At first I thought it was the Jags since the employee asked for 3 Mondays off and all the other teams DEFINITELY had a first week bye going in. But then he took one of those Mondays back, which doesn’t make sense because the Jags played every Sunday.

          In any case, unless this person’s a Pats fan, you don’t need to worry about him traveling to the superbowl :-D *ducks for cover*

        3. Annabelle*

          I was also reading it as the Jaguars and it was definitely because of personal preferences (I’m from Jacksonville).

      2. Allison*

        Yeah, I almost said GO EAGLES in my post until I realized OP’s employee could be a Pats fan :P

        Eagles were my grandfather’s favorite team, and he passed away in the beginning of the season, so being Bostonian I’d love to see the Pats win again (sorry, sorry) but I’d be very happy for the Eagles if they won it this year.

        1. SNS*

          Definitely thought they were an Eagles fan. Some of my coworkers have already requested off to celebrate haha

          1. OP*

            Slightly unrelated, but the day after the SB is the most frequently used “sick” day in the U.S. One year (the first time the Giants beat the Pats), I actually got a stomach bug the day of the SB, and I called out the next day. I wasn’t questioned, but I was expecting to be!

      3. Solidus Pilcrow*

        Except MN is a big state, he could be out by Fargo or Bemidji or out toward Sioux Falls. Minneapolis != Minnesota.

        Also plenty of Vikings fans in Wisconsin (the traitors).

        Wisconsin native living in Minnesota

    2. Anony*

      It sounds like the OP is conscious of that though and trying to take it into account. But if the department is swamped it makes sense to talk to the former coworker and tell him that he needs to pick it up a bit. Before having that conversation the OP needs to have solid numbers about how everyone is performing to back up the claim that he is slacking off (or at least not helping out the team as much as expected) but they don’t need to just let go of an overall performance issue.

      1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

        No, I never would suggest letting go of a current performance issue . I did suggest keeping in check some of the past (from when they were coworkers).

        Any performance issues should be based from the time they took over as manager and forward, much like what you said here. “OP needs to have solid numbers about how everyone is performing to back up the claim that he is slacking off (or at least not helping out the team as much as expected) “

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just to jump in here, it’s great to have solid numbers if the work lends itself to getting those numbers easily, but not all types of work do, and I wouldn’t want a manager to feel she couldn’t address concerns without having hard numbers to back it up.

          1. OP*

            Yes – this is exactly the situation I’m in, which makes it more difficult to address these types of concerns. We deal with regular day-to-day tasks, and some larger projects, not how many widgets you produced in a day. I wish it were that easy!

            1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

              Have you established metrics and KPIs for the employees? It’s harder to do when not transaction based work, but still essential for evaluation.

              How are you evaluating their work and effectiveness?

            2. Natalie*

              Do you think that might be why the question of whether he’s lying seems very important? In a work environment with less obvious, countable goals I think it can be appealing to focus on an Obvious Issue, whether that’s arrival times, personal computer use, number of hours worked, or something else. [Assuming those items aren’t directly relevant to the job, of course.]

              I don’t really have any answers. mind you! This kind of thing is one of the reasons I’m not really interested in being a manager.

  17. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    For clarity: This employee has been actually traveling to and attending the playoff games that his team is in? Or does he just take the next day off (because he hosts a big party and needs time to recuperate, knows that he’s going to drink more than usual and will be hungover, etc.).

    And is the OP’s suspicion that he will actually be attending the Superbowl? I wouldn’t assume that; it’s sooooo expensive (starting at $1,000 per ticket, if you can get them at face value, which is unlikely).

    1. Natalie*

      Tons of people travel to the Super Bowl without tickets – I live in Minneapolis, ask me how I know! As you say, tickets are extremely expensive and they are also generally completely sold before the season even starts. (Fun fact I just learned, 75% of the tickets are distributed among the various NFL teams – host city, each conference’s champion, and then the rest of the teams). But tons of events happen around each game and lots of fans of the competing teams will travel to the Super Bowl to be part of the festivities outside of the stadium.

    2. OP*

      I’m the OP – I know that he went to the game this past weekend (on Saturday), and he did take off on Monday (he wasn’t traveling very far though). I’m sure I’m giving away where we are! The issue is the time off category. I could not care less if he went to the Super Bowl – it would be really fun and I’d be happy if his team made it! The problem is the potential lying about why he requested the time – using sick time instead of vacation time – basically, violating our institution’s policy for using 1 category of time off when it really fits into another category. Because I heard one thing from him, and something different from another employee, I am suspicious.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I didn’t close the loop on my thought. What I meant was: Because I wouldn’t assume that he’s actually going to Minneapolis for the Superbowl, the sick leave that happens to be over Superbowl weekend wouldn’t have pinged my attention at all.

        That being said, I’m just now remembering that you’ve actually been told by a colleague that he is planning to go to Minneapolis if his team makes it, which makes my whole point moot. :)

        1. OP*

          No worries – the employee who told me said that he was just going to go and look for a ticket. He (as of the time she mentioned it) didn’t have one.

  18. OP*

    Hi everyone – I’m the OP. Thank you, Alison, for your solid advice! You’re correct that the overall issue is the one that’s really bugging me. And of course, I don’t want to be THAT MANAGER who is suspicious of everything. I especially appreciate everyone’s feedback in this area. I really like the script to make sure he’s helping with the workload, and it makes it look like I’m not singling him out because of a particular interest.

    Also, just to clarify – the relative doesn’t live in Minneapolis – they live closer to the employee and our institution (and so I don’t give away where we are – I’ll just say that we’re really far away from Minnesota!). The issue with the time off is that there are different categories of time off that is mentioned – family leave is part of our sick time PTO category. Vacation time is in a different category, and so if there was lying going on, it would affect his accrued vacation leave (which is paid out if you leave the institution). If this all fell into a vacation leave category, I wouldn’t mind it (although I’d be annoyed if he was lying). It’s a nice perk to have vacation time be paid out if you leave. So to see someone potentially abuse it is a problem, in my opinion. But I will focus on the larger issue of work ethic.

    1. Maya Elena*

      Thanks for the update! Does your employer limit accruals, e.g. to 2X thr annual allotment? If so, it isn’t THAT much of an incentive, especially if the NFL guy isn’t planning to leave soon.

      Also, if the prior manager approved the leave, it would be bad form to revoke it without a really good reason.

      1. OP*

        Yes – it’s capped, but he’s already used a lot. But we are a large nonprofit, and we get a TON of PTO. I’m not going to revoke unless I have real proof that he’s lying.

        1. OP*

          Or at the very least – maybe not revoke, but give him a warning and make him code the time off correctly. But I don’t have any more evidence to this point that he is lying.

    2. Ainomiaka*

      I actually thought this was required, and why so many US employers institute use it or lose it policies. But huh. Learned something new.

      1. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

        I actually live in a state that has banned “use it or lose it” policies. You can cap accruals but it honestly has to be a pretty high number. I know a few (long term employees) whose accruals have been capped around 800 hours, which truly is 10-15 years of accrual with little to no usage.

      2. OP*

        We have a cap, but I’ve worked there for 3 years and haven’t hit the cap yet. We get a TON of PTO.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I actually do think it’s a big deal to lie about the sick leave — both because it gives you a big clue about his overall integrity, and because (although others disagree, but I personally feel really strongly about this) sick time is intended for, well, sickness (and in your case, caregiving for others who are unwell).

      The idea that people who happen to not get sick should just get to take sick time as extra vacation time infuriates me. The result is that older people, people with kids, people with disabilities or chronic illness, and people who happen to have a sensitive immune system, get less vacation than the lucky few who don’t need their sick time for what it’s intended for. That’s absolutely not ok (with me).

      1. Nonsenical*

        I am not see why it is infuriating you that people who don’t get sick often use the sick days for non sick things. If they aren’t going to use it, why shouldn’t they use it for something else or a mental health day? I get sick often and I used all my PTO last year for surgeries. If my company actually had sick days in a separate category, I wouldn’t fault people for using sick days for vacation days.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          For the reasons I already articulated: “The result is that older people, people with kids, people with disabilities or chronic illness, and people who happen to have a sensitive immune system, get less vacation than the lucky few who don’t need their sick time for what it’s intended for.”

          1. Kate 2*

            Yeah, but that’s not the fault of the healthier people. Speaking as someone with several chronic conditions who has to use more sick time than most, it sounds like you are angry at the universe because (you?) are unlucky enough to be sick. I feel that way too sometimes, especially when they compare their sniffles to my permanent condition. But you can’t be resentful and BEC angry at healthy people. It’s not good for (general) you, and it won’t make (general) you healthy. It’s like hating all people who were lucky enough to be born richer than you. Which as a low-income person is also hard not to do but much better for your sanity if you don’t.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Fault isn’t relevant; equity is. Healthier people shouldn’t get more vacation (via taking sick days as vacation days) than less-healthy people.

              (I’m a healthy, young, person with no kids. I don’t have personal skin in this game; I just don’t think I should get more vacation days than my colleague who has two kids in daycare, or my colleague with lupus, or my colleague undergoing cancer treatment.)

              I’m genuinely baffled by folks who argue otherwise. Equity issues aside, plenty of employers combine PTO in part to avoid this problem. If yours doesn’t, it’s signaling that it doesn’t believe the two pools should be used interchangeably.

              1. Annabelle*

                The PTO bucket system still results in chronically ill folks and people who get sick easily having less vacation time, though. This has been my situation for the past few years. If I wasn’t sick so often, I would have way more vacation time. But I don’t get angry at people who use their PTO for fun as opposed to managing a chronic illness.

                1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

                  I was coming here to say this. My company uses a PTO bucket and yeah, it sucked when I got the flu last April and used up my existing PTO to lay, miserable and feverish, on the couch for a week but I didn’t begrudge my healthy co-workers for using their PTO on vacations that summer.

                  Life isn’t fair. It’s never going to be “equal”. Getting angry over it is wasted emotion.

              2. Annabelle*

                To clarify, my point is mostly that people who genuinely need to use sick time for its intended purposes will almost always have less vacation time than healthy people. It’s, unfortunately, one of the realities of living with a chronic condition or compromised immune system.

                1. SleeplessInLA*

                  Thank you for clarifying this and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with a chronic condition.

                  Victoria’s comment was baffling to me b/c no matter how you slice it, the end result is the same and as you stated, the anger just seems totally misplaced.

              3. Maya Elena*

                Seems like equity is best-served – and resentment minimized – when the rules are the same for all, a priori.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  In this case, that would mean that employees cannot take sick days as extra vacation days, right?

                  (But I actually disagree — equity is not the same thing as equality. To Annabelle’s point above, an equitable time off system would account for her chronic illness and ensure that she has access to the same amount of “fun time off” as someone who is currently healthy.)

                2. Annabelle*

                  To be fair, equity and equality are different things, so an equitable policy would actually look different for different people. But honestly, that’s just not feasible with the way most companies – at least in the US – currently operate.

                  Would it be wonderful if I didn’t have to budget my PTO the way I do? Of course! Is that likely to change? Probably not, and I don’t really have the spoons to be angry about it.

              4. Yada yada yada*

                Victoria, wouldn’t combining sick and PTO do the opposite of what you’re arguing? Let’s say you have 5 sick and 5 vacation days. John’s sick 8 days, so he takes 5 sick and uses 3 vaca days for his illness, leaving 2 “fun days.” Jessica is sick 1 day, gets 5 vacation days for fun, and leaves her 4 unused sick days behind. If sick and PTO were combined, Jessica would get 9 vacation days for non-illness reasons, while John would still only have 2. It seems like this is the opposite of the equity based system you were advocating for, unless I’m misunderstanding

          2. SleeplessInLA*

            I want to chime in here since I’m one of the “lucky few” you’re speaking of. I’m the youngest on my team, childless and w/o a chronic illness etc. meaning there are several times I’ve had to pick up extra work due to a co-worker with a sick child or ailing parent. Each time, I gladly cover their work and wish a speedy recovery with no problem because life happens.

            That being said, my company gives everyone 10 sick days/yr which I’ve never come close to needing so yes, I’ve used a sick day when I was in good health and just wanted an extra day to myself. It seems really short sighted that because someone in my shoes uses a handful of sick days as vacation days, you dismiss all the times that person may have had a double workload or late nights due to no fault of their own. You aren’t getting “less vacation” any more than I’m getting extra work just because I don’t have children or any other scenario you listed.

            1. Anon for this*

              I’m very supportive of my colleagues with children, but I’m also constantly aware of how childless people *with* chronic illnesses or simply a need to have a few more appointments than typical are treated like unicorns for taking any sort of sick leave, even when we go above and beyond pulling our weight. There’s a tacit assumption that we don’t have lives and that life doesn’t happen to us, and when it does it draws a lot of attention.

              I kind of feel like some employers (not my current one, though!) think they’ve wound up with a lemon when a relatively young, childless person uses any of their PTO unless it’s obviously on socially acceptable things like weddings or something else Instagram-worthy.

            2. Stellaaaaa*

              Plus, I would think that “I might have to miss work to care for my sick children” would be one of the easier issues to reconcile when a smart individual decides to have a family. If you choose to have kids, it’s bizarre to insist that it won’t have an effect on the rest of your life. If you don’t want to miss work because of your kids, consider not having kids.

          3. JS*

            Someone made a comment earlier than if an employee needed FMLA because they used up all their sick time it is at an employer discretion to use their vacation time for it as well, so in certain circumstances they wouldn’t get that vacation time at all and it would act as one giant pool.

    4. Liz2*

      Sounds good. I may note though that a lot of people dislike the separation of time out and see “perks of getting money” as really meaning “they don’t really want me using my time” cause a lot of places have exactly that sort of pressure. I know as a manager you have to be sensitive to policies, but don’t make the mistake of thinking what you value is what they value as a “perk.” I’m sure focusing on process and work delegation performance is the way to go.

      1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

        Yeah…I didn’t read that as a perk at all. I totally read that as “we want you to never take a vacation but we promise we’ll pay you for it – when you’re no longer working for us of course!” I’m a person who uses up all of her PTO – every year. I earned it, I’m using it.

    5. LCL*

      …we did have someone with attendance issues call in sick, and appear in a photo in the newspaper coverage of a game that happened the same day they called in.

    6. Argh!*

      Separating sick from vacation is a rather outdated practice for this very reason. Healthy people will use sick time for leisure activities and sicker people will be forced to use vacation or non-paid FMLA time.

      I have had the problem of reports who fail to meet deadlines due to screwing around on the web. The rule of thumb about catching someone in the act just makes them more furtive about it. Seeing someone go “click click click” on the mouse as you approach is just sickening. If I want to talk to someone I shouldn’t have to see them closing out windows every time I approach.

      Writing them up for failing to meet deadlines is somewhat effective. If someone really doesn’t care about the job, and your manager doesn’t have the ****s to let you escalate discipline, you’re just stuck with it.

      One trick that was successful for me: we had the option of sending someone to mandatory EAP (one appointment only), so I wrote up the EAP mandatory referral with the explanation that if your homelife is so horrible that coming to work is play time (this employee played video games), then you need help. They promised to stop playing video games, and to meet deadlines in order not to have that EAP referral in their HR file.

      1. Natalie*

        I presume you didn’t write this policy and had no control over it, so this is not a personal criticism of you, but it squicks me out that any EAP referral would be in someone’s HR file as some kind of demerit. That’s not what it’s for!

      2. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

        “I wrote up the EAP mandatory referral with the explanation that if your homelife is so horrible that coming to work is play time (this employee played video games), then you need help.”

        Really? Maybe they just didn’t like their job? I would be beyond pissed if my manager were to give me the explanation given here and suggest that I needed help because of it. Frankly…all the times I’ve messed around online while at work have been because of work related issues – usually toxic bosses – and not home issues.

    7. goodluck!*

      Hey OP, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but do you think your opinion on football could be affecting this at all? I think it’s more likely as others have said, that it’s your opinion of the rest of his work, but it’s important not to judge him for his hobbies. It’s not like some hobbies are “better” than others. If you’d be more understanding to a different hobby (even in terms of him looking at stuff and talking about it), it might be worth trying to remember that isn’t good either.

        1. OP*

          No worries – I do love sports! And even if I didn’t, I might be more annoyed, but I try hard to be objective about these types of things. But I could totally see how that could come into play with a manager who hated sports.

    8. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      I completely understand why you have focused on the issue of incorrect PTO. It seems like there are other areas in his work that are concerning you and as a former coworker who was firsthand damaged by his football obsession, every little thing he does is even more frustrating. It’s called bitch eating crackers (BEC) and it’s so real! I’ve had it happen with coworkers who simply check out of tasks that impact my ability to do my job but my boss may not take it as seriously as I do. The frustration mounts!

      This would be a good time to focus only on the root of the issue and ignore all the other little things that are adding up. It isn’t necessarily that he is using PTO incorrectly: the issue is that he isn’t getting his work done and he is impacting the office as a whole. Focus on that and those little things will fall to the side.

      1. OP*

        Thank you! I would say that I have had BEC tendencies in the past, so yes, this is like a last straw thing that pushed me to write to Alison. As a manager, I have more control over the situation and can nip problems in the bud, thankfully.

  19. Allison*

    Question, is sick leave limited or unlimited? If he uses some of his limited sick leave days for things that aren’t sick leave, it may be fraudulent, but he’s really only hurting himself for when he’s legitimately sick and doesn’t have any sick leave.

    That said, if people knew he was only going for the Super Bowl and had no plans to care for a family member, or maybe there is a sick family member there but he’s planning to do the bare minimum so it “counts” before spending most of Sunday at the stadium, just so he qualifies for sick leave, AND people knew that was the plan and he got away with it, it could create a morale issue. Keep that in mind.

    It may be okay to warn him of the optics in this situation. Tell him it looks bad when he keeps calling in sick after games, it looks bad that he’s taking sick leave to travel to Minneapolis the weekend of the Super Bowl, and that when the team is swamped, it looks bad that he’s on Tell him that if you find out he was at the Super Bowl you’re going to be very suspicious, and that if his team loses this coming weekend and he subsequently cancels his sick leave request, it’s also going to be very damning. But also show sympathy, in case there really is a sick family member out there.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I suppose this could really easily be both: he’s spending Wednesday – Friday in Kansas City taking care of a family member, then flying to Minneapolis for the game, then traveling back on Monday. I’d call that three days of sick leave and one day of vacation.

    2. OP*

      The family leave is capped at 40 hours. Sick time is unlimited, but it accrues at 8 hours per month. I’m not sure how much he has. Thanks for the feedback about optics – I think that’s accurate. I am going to wait to see how the playoffs, uh, play out, but I will definitely post an update if I learn anything new!

      1. OP*

        And sorry – this isn’t FMLA (or maybe it’s part of it), but family SICK leave is part of the sick time category. In order to take FMLA, he’d have to exhaust family sick leave and all of his vacation.

  20. Brett*

    As a note… if he is from Minneapolis then he is probably going to the Super Bowl regardless of whether or not his team makes it. It would be bigger if his team makes it, but that is one of those events that you tend to keep your tickets regardless of who actually ends up playing.

    The Super Bowl is weird in that the tickets *never* go on sale to the general public. If you are a season ticket holder of the host team, then you get an opportunity to enter a drawing the previous year to win the rights to buy tickets. He or his relatives are probably Vikings season ticket holders and entered the drawing and won, months before they had any idea his team would make the playoffs.

    There are other ways to get tickets (such as buying from scalpers or having your team make the super bowl), but those are low odds and high costs and you generally don’t know you have the tickets for certain until just days before the game.
    For all those reasons, people generally don’t just skip the game once they have tickets because their team did not make it.

    1. Natalie*

      Don’t you think he’d already have booked the time off if he had gotten tickets somehow? The few that get sold to the public were sold back in the summer.

      Since he seems to only care if his team gets in, I think it’s more likely that he doesn’t have tickets and is planning to travel anyway. A lot of people do that.

        1. Natalie*

          From what Brett indicated above it sounds like he wouldn’t know yet, so I’m just responding to the theory that he secured tickets through his family or something.

  21. Zip Silver*

    Football makes people do weird stuff. I’ve got a savings account already earmarked for if/when the Texans ever make the Super Bowl. It’d be nice to have the Monday after off for a travel day.

  22. Autumnheart*


    1. Address the work ethic concerns with Football Dude.
    2. Take a more involved hand in distributing work tasks so that one employee isn’t overwhelmed while the other is surfing the web. Your busy employee shouldn’t have to depend on Football Dude to volunteer, she should just be able to come to you and you can assign some of her work to him. You should have a pretty good idea of what your team is working on. If you don’t, call a status meeting and go over what everyone is doing, and reassign so that the workload is equal. Clarify expectations and deadlines.
    3. Don’t get invested in whether Football Dude is lying about how he’s using his PTO. There is no benefit to you in doing this. If he is lying, the Super Bowl is in two weeks and it will be a moot issue anyway after that. If he’s not lying, you’ll look like a micromanaging jerk. He already requested the time off, it was already approved by your predecessor, so just let it ride.
    4. Don’t be the screen police. It’s one thing if Football Dude is not getting his work done because he’s watching the Vikings sideline cam replay on repeat–that is a legitimate issue. But for chrissake, people should be able to take a few minutes every hour or two to look at their phone or whatever, without the whip cracking over their head. It’s not your employees’ job to mitigate the impact of your understaffing problem by doing the work of a fully staffed team. It’s your job to balance the workload so that they are working on the most impactful projects without being overwhelmed *while you look for more staff*. And it’s their job to make sure they’re meeting those deadlines. Walking the aisles and standing over people to make sure they’re not goofing off on work time drains all the trust and engagement out of a workplace. You will only get people who are good at lying to you and hitting alt-tab really fast.

    1. Ainomiaka*

      Good point about the don’t wait for him to volunteer. I’m also a little weirded out by the idea that he should just take over work when he has nothing to do. And I ask for work when I have a slow time. Maybe my industry is different but that could cause real problems in my job, depending on what was taken over. And I like to be able to plan my day to be efficient. If I left something for late in the day there’s a reason! I also have had coworkers get really touchy about things like that. So hard agree on take a more active role in distribution of work.

      1. Argh!*

        The supervisor is responsible for the work load. The employee is responsible for time management. If the work load is off-balance, then the manager has the responsibility to distribute it more evenly. If it’s a matter of one employee being more efficient (without giving up quality and accuracy), then that’s a little dicier.

      2. Kate 2*

        Yes! In my experience taking on other people’s work without involving boss can make it look like you are both performing equally when the other person needs help or has performance issues. Also trying to bring it up later can make you look like a braggart, even when you don’t mean it that way.

    2. OP*

      Yes – that’s one of the things I’ve learned from this feedback and hadn’t been doing. That’s partially due to how overwhelmed I feel taking on two jobs, but that’s not a good excuse. I need to be more hands on in making sure work is distributed. Also, just to clarify, I’m not over his shoulder all the time – I DON’T want to be that person.
      But when I walk by his desk, I frequently see the websites up. Thanks for the recommendations!

  23. Not really a waitress*

    My best friend and I met at work and bonded over our shared love of a certain baseball team. Over the past few years, my friend has needed some required but not time sensitive surgeries. He schedules them so his final week of fmla coincides with spring training or the post season. One year i went with him and we saw our tean clinch and get into the world series! He isnt taking leave for baseball… he is just scheduling what needs to be done around his hobby.

    1. Stormy*

      This is an interesting point. I have heard (and read) that March Madness is the most busy time for men to schedule a vasectomy, so they can sit on the couch and vegetate to sportsball while recovering.

    2. GriefBacon*

      It’s a little different (though I would 100% do the same for sporting events), but I used to live 90 min from the closest doctor/dentist/eye doctor, etc. The town with medical professionals was halfway between me and the city my two best friends lived in. I would regularly schedule medical appointments for Friday afternoons or Monday mornings, so that I could get a head start/delayed return leaving work on weekends I went to visit friends. I wasn’t using sick time to go visit my friends – I was just scheduling appointments for times I wanted to be making that drive anyway.

  24. Carrie F*

    I think, depending on how long OP feels they can wait, if he really is going to the Superbowl, he is going to be running his mouth about it during work hours or checking out hotels, ticket sites, betting sites, etc. I think he will make it quite obvious what his plans are without even having to risk guessing. Also, if there really IS a surgery, maybe split the difference with him and insist that Monday is a vacation day and the others can be PTO/ sick time (since there is probably no way to prove there ISN’T a surgery). But let’s face it, that guy will be on a plane Monday either way, surgery or not, which to me does not constitute PTO.

  25. Autumnheart*

    I also feel like addressing the “Super Bowl or sick relative?” issue could wait until after the Super Bowl, when it will become apparent after the fact what Football Dude actually ended up doing. At which point it would be a lot clearer to address, as opposed to trying to dig around for info about what he *plans* to do. Presumably you could retroactively reassign which bucket the PTO came out of, and if it sucks up all his vacation time, so be it. (Maybe along with a write-up for lying.)

    But as a lifelong Minnesota resident, I feel confident in claiming that this isn’t a problem that will repeat itself anytime soon. ;-) (Yes, I’m cynical.)

    1. Argh!*

      If this employee talks about ordinary football games, it will be hard for him to keep quiet about the superbowl!

      1. Pollygrammer*

        And if he does blab about it, I think a serious conversation about inappropriate use of sick leave should happen.

  26. Nita*

    If this guy is a Vikings fan, he could be from Minneapolis – so it’s not impossible that he has to travel to the same place to help a sick family member, and to watch the Super Bowl. It’s also possible that he didn’t feel like going into details of his family member’s illness with the coworker, and just made a light-hearted comment to her that he’s going to the game.

    As others say, his everyday performance could be the bigger issue. We don’t know why he seems to have free time to talk sports every day while his coworker seems overwhelmed. Maybe he’s just more efficient, or maybe there’s an unfair distribution of workload. The details in the letter seem to say he’s slacking, in which case OP, as the manager, needs to take some of his coworker’s workload and transfer it to him, instead of placing the burden of asking for help on the coworker.

  27. Stormy*

    Adjacent to LW’s problem: my birthday often falls on the Superbowl, and in the past I’ve gotten flack for asking for PTO around that time, because everyone and their brother wants the same day off (“You don’t care about football, why can’t you take a different Friday off instead? Us dudes want to see THE BIG GAME!!!”).

    As a manager, please be aware when dealing with clustered PTO requests that it may the case that not everyone cares about Big Event, and prioritize your approvals accordingly.

    1. Juli G.*

      I have a Super Bowl timed birthday too but I’m a huge football fan so everyone expects me to take Monday off. The last time my team was in it was on my actual birthday – they won and people were shocked that I made it on Tuesday.

  28. MissingArizona*

    Not really contributing, but I hate the people that cannot stop talking about football at work. I get that it is an intense hobby, but give it a rest. I once did retail at the BX, and we were transplants, every Friday during football season you could wear jeans with a football jersey. I’m from Arizona, I wore my Arizona jersey in “Seahawks country”, I have never been so abused at work. They changed the rules that you could only wear Seahawks gear after that. I stopped participating, and I still got grief for not being “supportive”. My apathy towards football turned into full-on hatred after that.

      1. MissingArizona*

        I woman I didn’t even assist, stood behind me and screamed at me for being disrespectful, security forces had to escort her from the store. The fans in this state are insane.

  29. Alice W*

    Depends on the workplace, but many exempt employees, including me, work after-hours, weekends, and on many vacation days. I also work from home when I am sick. I have only not worked on a sick day once in ten years because I was bedridden. I don’t always use my 5 allotted sick days but when I do, I sometimes use them as personal days. I am not cheating the company. They get more than their money’s worth from me. I would hate to have my requests for taking a sick day investigated. This situation may be very different. As others have said, I’d be more concerned about the other performance issues, rather than picking on his alleged “lying” about sick leave.

  30. Shoe*

    I feel like if this guy where 100% on top of his game (no pun intended!) and giving a good impression at work by getting all his work done, helping out when needed, etc., things like looking at websites and taking suspicious time off would be non-issues. The real problem is that you don’t feel like he is tuned into the job the way you need him to be.

    I’m not a manager, but I think that if I were, I might just start with talking to him about his productivity. NOT about his time on sports websites, but more like, “You’ve missed deadline X and Y, and you did not help Fergus with what he needed help with. This is not meeting expectations for your position, which are P, Q, and R.” You don’t want to create a situation where people feel like their peers and managers are looking over their shoulder at their computer screens or scrutinizing the validity of their sick days, you just want the work to get done in a fair way, right? So, take it on from that angle and let the chips fall where they may from there.

  31. Rachel01*

    OP, can you have IT verify the amount of time your employee is on-line on “non work” websites, like the football stuff? If IT finds that he’s spending 1 -2 hours a day on-line, during working hours viewing football & other things. That is time he could be helping his co workers. His co-worker may be uncomfortable asking him to help when she sees the football stuff because she’s frustrated, and is afraid that it’ll come across when she asks.

    Have the work ethic conversation. Some people may not realize how much time they are wasting on the internet during working hours. They may be logging into non work website randomly during the day, but 10 minutes here and there could add up to 4 – 5 hours a week that he’s non productive. If you find he’s spending quite a bit of time “not” working and playing on the internet you can have IT block some of the sites he’s going to on a regular basis. They may be able to block everything about football for all I know. If block it, discuss it and make it clear that he’s not supposed to be doing the football stuff on his cell, etc. during working hours, if you go the blocking route.

    1. Natalie*

      Probably not a huge surprise since I’m commenting here during the workday, but I’m not a big fan of using time as a proxy for actual productivity. I’m someone who works intensely for a period of time and then takes a break. If my boss told me to stop doing that and expected that every minute of my day be used on work tasks, the aggregate amount of completed work would not go up and might actually go down, plus I would feel cranky about the nitpicking about how I complete what I complete. I had a boss that essentially expected that any work challenge could be solved by working longer hours – I guess the guy had never heard of diminishing returns – and the arguments we had over that genuinely pushed me to leave before I was planning to and never look back. So I would proceed with caution if you’re going to focus on the time spent, and be sure it’s actually directly relevant and not just an easier way to talk about work results.

      1. JS*

        This entirely!

        I think its healthy to take breaks and everyone has a different work style. I know I used to work at a company where my boss said if we finished our tasks early we could leave. My coworkers would go do errands together, have 20-minute watercooler breaks, take lunch while I would slam through my workload and be able to leave usually an hour earlier. This caused resentment and “she doesn’t have enough work!” when in fact we had the same workload it was just I spent more time doing my job with less breaks. My boss was understanding to this and given that all my work was excellent said in those times before I leave just to ask anyone if they needed help, if they didn’t then it wasn’t my fault if they felt I didnt have enough work.

      2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        I’m the same way – working intensely then taking a break.

        Also – if my company were to try to verify the amount of hours I spend on non-work sites – well it would come up as 40 hrs. Because I have two monitors and always have some sort of tab running in the background or on my other monitor if I don’t need to for work at the moment (sometimes AAM – woo! Sometimes a shopping page, that I scroll through for a few seconds when spreadsheets are loading, 10 recipe pages that I pulled up the tab from that I’m planning to take a quick chec of later etc.)

    2. Bea*

      No. That’s way over the top and it’s proven most people are more productive when they take short breaks to look at social media or online news etc. That’s a punishment that will get spread around because he’ll be ticked off and vent then others will stress out about if they’re being monitored as well.

      It’s best to just talk to him because nobody needs a real log of his time spent online when she’s seen it with her own eyes.

    3. OP*

      I thought about it, but don’t want to be the micromanaging manager. Also, to be totally clear, I LOVE sports, and I occasionally take a break and check personal websites (cough, AAM, cough), so I have NO problem with either of those in general. But I just see him on these sites A LOT – usually first thing in the morning as I’m walking in (he starts half an hour before I do, so part of me wonders whether he’s spending that entire first half hour on the websites).

  32. AK*

    Another thing to think about- travel is often times cheaper around the Super Bowl (except to the city that is hosting). My husband and I travel every year around the Super Bowl because you can save so much on flights. It is possible that he planned to travel that weekend to help his family member because he could get a flight for a reasonable price.

    1. Oranges*

      I now want to plan a trip for that week since I’m in MN. I’m apathetic about sportsball and I’m grumpy about it taking over my city. My entire department is going to be working from home during the pandemonium.

      1. Natalie*

        My department normally works Saturdays in January and February (it’s our busy season) and our office is downtown right in between the stadium and the location of most of the special events. Yet we have not been given dispensation to skip that Saturday. Our parking gets reimbursed for those Saturday workdays so I am honestly considering finding the most expensive event parking I can and making them pay for it because this is RIDICULOUS.

        1. Oranges*

          Congrats, your office is redonkulous. Also good luck on finding parking on Saturday. I think my building has specifically stated that parking shouldn’t be taken for granted that week and please come in via bus/carpool/etc if possible. I’d say Uber/Lyft/Taxi in but even those are gonna be a headache.

        2. Kelly*

          My sister lives in St. Paul and she’s at best indifferent to the NFL and the Super Bowl, unless the Vikings represent the NFC and win it all, just to rub it in to the Packers fans in my dad’s family. She’s more concerned about the disruptions, including no public access to the light rail all weekend and extra traffic.

          She’s more excited about the Final Four being in Minneapolis in 2019 and is considering trying to get tickets for it. She’d love it if Minneapolis hosted the college football national championship game, being more of a college sports fan.

  33. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    And now this letter has me worried about whether it will be suspicious to use sick leave to get over jet lag or cover my travel time to my vacation, when I could have been working (flight is 11 am and work opens at 6:30 so I could work a bit, but who wants to get up that early, so I was thinking of using it to cover a partial day). I have a few hours of it by now but not enough to make a difference and actually stay home when sick, so I might as well use it.

    Might look fishy, but hey, I want sleep before I cross 5 time zones! Address performance, not time off.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      You’re right to be worried.

      That’s not sick time; that’s a part of your planned vacation and you should use vacation time to cover it.

      Of course, your particular workplace might have different norms. But in none of my workplaces would what you’re describing be a reasonable use of sick time.

        1. fposte*

          We’ve got some bleedthrough from the previous letter here, I think, with the difference being that overcaffeinated is traveling for pleasure and not for work.

          I’m inclined to agree that if she’s unwell with jet lag she *can* use her sick time for that. It sounds like she hasn’t earned many sick hours, though, so I doubt I’d spend them on jet lag if I might need them for the flu down the line; I also think that in some workplaces it will raise eyebrows slightly to call in sick the day after vacation rather than making it a planned absence. But it’s not completely untenable.

          Using sick leave to cover travel time, however, is a different matter. Unless you’re in an environment where the attitude is “eh, it’s all your earned benefits and we don’t really care” that’s likely to raise questions.

            1. Pollygrammer*

              There would be an ENORMOUS amount of side-eye if someone in my office took a sick day before or after vacation. Even if jet-lag has someone absolutely wrecked or even ill, they’d probably be expected to at least come and put in an appearance before going home. It’s absurd, but the company has been burned before by some unapologetic abusers of their boss’ trust.

  34. C.*

    The moral of the story: GO VIKINGS. (And you need to decide whether you’re okay with him lying about vacation days or not. None of the rest really matters until you’re clear whether or not this rises to the level of something you, manager, actively want to take on.)

  35. Falling Diphthong*

    It’s possible the relative scheduled surgery for near the Superbowl figuring it would be a great lie around recovering time, or a great time to convince relatives good at lifting things to come visit in Minneapolis.

    Vasectomies peak during March Madness.

  36. DrAtos*

    I’m glad that at my workplace, no one asks what we use our sick leave for, and it does not have much of a difference from vacation leave. It’s our choice whether to use sick or vacation leave depending on how many days of each we have at our disposal. I agree with this policy. It really is no one’s business. If an employee at my office has 10 days of sick leave, that person can call in sick for 2-3 days in a row, and he is marked as sick no questions asked. He could fly to another country for the weekend for all we care, as long as he is back at work once the sick leave is used. If he is genuinely sick, and uses up his sick leave but has 20 days of vacation leave at his disposal, he can probably call and tell our receptionist that he won’t be in for that day, but will turn in his leave form and check off vacation leave when he gets back. We are only told to turn in our leave sheets in advance around the holidays when a lot of people plan to take vacation leave. This is only to ensure that there is enough coverage around the office. Of course this system has its flaws, but overall it has worked well for everyone and I don’t see anyone blatantly abusing this system. I’ve always believed that what we do outside of the office is not our employer’s business (as long as it is legal) and within reason. If this employee is using sick leave to go to take care of a sick family member and go to the Super Bowl, good for him. He gets to kill two birds with one stone and have some fun on what would otherwise be a stressful trip.

    1. Bea*

      We never called our leave sick leave before because we didn’t want it only to be seen as for illness. We called it personal time but with new mandated sick leave to force the scummy businesses who don’t give any or enough leave for illness, we have to call it sick leave now.

      We’re the same way, just take time off and we will deduct from whatever pool you have left.

      It’s also illegal for employers to ask WHY you’re using sick leave in this state. So that makes me flinch when companies are outdated and still require a “reason”. It’s an invasion of privacy and you don’t have to tell anyone your health issues.

  37. Sailor Bee*

    OP, for what it’s worth, I actually believe that he’s telling the truth about the surgery. Not despite the timing with the Superbowl, but because of it. A lot of men actually schedule elective surgeries around the Superbowl, thinking it’ll give them free sick days to watch football.

    (Used to work in men’s health….)

    1. OP*

      Thank you! And I still think that there is a way that he could accommodate both the surgery and a trip, but the fact that I heard something different made me curious.

  38. mAd Woman*

    My question would be, why does it matter? Is family leave a different bucket? It sounds like he’s asking for vacation days and he has vacation days available and apparently it’s ok to take them at this time. Unless there’s an issue with taking a different type of PTO, it doesn’t make sense to even care about it.

    1. OP*

      Yes it is a different bucket, and a bucket that isn’t paid out when a person leaves the organization. So that’s the exact issue – lying about the type of PTO you need in order to keep more of the one you can get paid out for (which is the vacation time he’d be saving).

  39. Todd Chrisley Knows Best*

    Would this employee typically be off on Sundays anyways? If so, I don’t see it being any of your business what he does Sunday as long as he cares to the relative or whatever on the actual days he’s requesting sick leave, unless your company has the same time off policy as the military in which any day you’re not on call/available in a pinch is counted, and it doesn’t really sound like it does. Sure he may be hungover that Monday, but you can still care for a sick relative then, though it may not be pleasant.

    On the other hand, could the employee who mentioned it to you just be assuming something? As in she heard he was off and then just assumed because he’s a football fanatic he would be there? I haven’t read all of the replies yet so please excuse me if you’ve already debunked this theory. :-)

    1. OP*

      He would be off, and he could accommodate both, but I was thinking that he could go early to take part in the festivities that week, and probably have a better chance of scoring a ticket. I don’t know that for sure, but that would be fun.

  40. OP*

    I mentioned this a few times in earlier comments, but just wanted to clarify a few things in our specific work group. These two employees do the exact same job, but they trade off on responsibilities each week to give a little variety. Work ebbs and flows with urgency and specific tasks that need to be completed, but there is ALWAYS something to do. Also – pasting one of my responses from above here: our team really values teamwork. But that is a vague concept, and for someone like him who doesn’t seem to “get it,” I need to be clear about actions that illustrate teamwork. So I could tell him that I expect him to check in with me or his coworker if he has nothing to do to see if there’s anything he can help with. I can check in with both staff more regularly to see what they’re working on, and divide the work evenly (so they don’t need to figure it out between themselves). We’ve never really had this issue with previous employees, but now I see that I need to be more concrete and explicit with them. I hope that makes sense.
    I really do appreciate all of the feedback! I am a longtime AAM reader, and occasional commenter, but this is the first time I’ve been the OP/LW. It’s very interesting from this perspective, and I totally appreciate the AAM community for your thoughtful answers and for helping me see the situation more clearly.

    1. CatsOnAKeyboard*

      This definitely brings up a few workload questions that might be helpful to dive into. If they’re trading off responsibilities, is the coworker always the one who is swamped (no matter which responsibilities assigned) or is it the coworker just better about jumping in when the employee is? Is it a specific set of tasks that are causing the issue (for coworker or both) that may be taking up more time and need to be realloted?

      If employee never or almost never has a problem completing a specific set of responsibilities on his week, I can definitely see why he’s doesn’t feel like he needs to jump in and help on his off-weeks.

      1. OP*

        Hahaha – I was debating about whether to share which team it was – I think I’ll do that if I give an update (probably after the Super Bowl). But to answer your question – no. Does that change your view of the situation? ;)

  41. MissDissplaced*

    We have 4 “floating holidays” that are used much like vacation. But that being said, it feels weird using them like vacation snd they’re coded differently. I would hate to be questioned on what sick/vacation/floaters are used for.

    But the general slacking off you can definitely address! And like immediately.

  42. Wintermute*

    Man, I just don’t get the mentality of some people that want to make sure that their co-workers aren’t getting one little thing they aren’t. It’s some serious crabs-in-a-bucket B.S.– If you stick one crab in a bucket it will crawl out, stick a BUNCH of crabs in a bucket and they’re stuck, because the crabs underneath will keep grabbing the legs of the ones on top that are trying to climb out, and pull them back down. It’s a very common labor metaphor for how we can’t ever get ahead as a working class because we don’t want anyone to do better *than us*.

    If a co-worker uses some sick time they may not need, you know what I say? Good for them. We don’t have a healthy work-life balance here, and we don’t get enough PTO, and frankly America’s PTO situation in general is sickening– after five years I get one weeks less than the MINIMUM REQUIRED BY LAW in Germany and most other European nations.

    So if they get one over on management, good for them, because management is getting one over on us every. damn. day.

  43. Candi*

    Setting aside the Superbowl/surgery issue, this sounds like something you would handle the same regardless of what the topic was. What the subject is doesn’t matter; the definite possibility he’s screwing around (based on what you said) when he’s supposed to be working is the issue that needs to be dealth wit. Wouldn’t matter if it was anime/manga, sports, diet, a favorite sitcom, a MLM -the spending time on that instead of the work he’s getting paid for is the problem. (Well, MLMs are their own problem, but you know what I mean.)

    Best of luck.

  44. Mark Roth*

    This situation sounds like the perfect reason why PTO is such a thing in place of specific time off. A guy wants to take off, he takes off. End of story.

    Now if he has issues in the office, address those issues.

  45. Media Monkey*

    reading through all these comments makes me so glad i am in the UK, where the whole thing is much simpler. paid time off (holiday) is for anything you like, and there is a minimum 20 days that companies are allowed to offer (they can include 8 bank holidays in the 20 but i would say most don’t). sick days aren’t set and aren’t considered a benefit. if you need them you take them and most employers will pay your normal salary for these. as a minimum, your employer has to pay statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks. you can self certify for up to 5 consecutive days – more than that and you need a note from your GP. sick leave only ever becomes a problem if they spot a pattern in your requests (for example you always take a friday before a holiday monday off) or you are long term sick and come back just long enough to requalify for statutory sick pay (this happened in a company i used to work for – in the end the company paid him to leave so they could hire someone else into his role).

    you don’t get paid for untaken sick leave, and your holidays are generally on a use it or lose it basis unless you are leaving the company at which point you would agree to either be paid for your accrued holidays or take them off your notice period.

    you would definitely be disciplined if you posted on social media about an event you attended while on sick leave.

  46. Tara*

    The manager is rooting for the team to lose because he thinks his employee is lying to him? I think the manager is way too caught up in how the person’s PTO is being used. When an employer put strictures on PTO – five sick days, 10 vacation days, etc. – I think it puts employees in the position to play the system. I see it with the staff here ALL THE TIME. If the employee runs out of PTO, that’s his problem. What does it matter what the time off is used for, as long as the work place has adequate coverage? Personally, I think employers should give a bank of generic PTO for employees to use how they please, with guidelines of course, whether that’s in a number of days a year or a number of hours a month that can accrue, or what have you. It’s his PTO, it was earned, let him use it. Also, going to a Super Bowl is kind of a big deal. It costs thousands to go and it’s not normally something a person does each and every year. Let him have this special occasion.

    1. OP*

      You’re right – that was really petty on my part. I should not have said it. But our institution does have strict categories and policies on PTO use, with penalties if it’s misused.

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