everyone is frustrated with my “lazy” coworker, but she’s actually hiding a serious illness

A reader writes:

I have a coworker, “Beth,” who calls out right before big deadlines complaining of mild cold symptoms. The rest of the team has to scramble to cover her work. She also often leaves early, usually on Fridays and with little or no notice, so the rest of us have to work late to make up for it. Her quality of work has plummeted over the last six months and it’s affecting all of us. The team resents her and grumbles that she’s lazy or melodramatic about having the sniffles.

But I learned that Beth actually has lupus and is quite ill. She confided this to me but asked me not to tell anyone after I found her crying in the bathroom. She pushes herself hard despite feeling terrible, then it all catches up with her right before the end of a project and she becomes too ill to push through it. She’s leaving early for doctors’ appointments and she does make up the time on weekends. She hides or downplays her symptoms, claims leaving early is a seniority perk, and hides her weekend work, so no one realizes how hard she’s working! She seems … embarrassed (?) about being ill? Or something?

I feel terrible for what Beth is going through, but the pattern we’re in is bad for the whole team. If we scaled her assignments to the hours she’s realistically able to work, we could plan farther in advance for others to pick up the extra assignments, making it a lot more manageable for everyone. But I can’t imagine it’s easy for a previously top-performing person to admit that they can’t handle the level of work they used to.

My questions:

1. Is there a way I can ask her to work with us on a more realistic plan for her workload without being unkind? She is senior to me by experience/title but we report to the same manager, who is very hands-off.

2. What should I say to my other coworkers when they complain about her? She doesn’t deserve that but I don’t want to clue people in to what’s going on since she asked me to keep this private.

Right now you have information about Beth’s situation that Beth herself doesn’t have — namely, that people are complaining about her and resenting her, because they don’t realize what’s actually going on.

My hunch is that if Beth realized that, she’d choose a different course of action. It sounds like right now she’s putting so much pressure on herself to try to make things appear “normal” that she doesn’t realize people are getting a really different impression than the one she’s hoping to create for them … and that if she did realize that, she’d proceed differently.

Given that her colleagues are grumbling about her and drawing conclusions that they almost certainly wouldn’t draw if they understood what was happening, you’d be doing Beth a favor if you talked to her about the situation. You don’t want to tell her what to do, of course, and you don’t want to make her feel terrible that people are complaining about her. But it truly would be a kindness to let her know how this is playing out with people, so that she’s better able to make good decisions for herself.

Since she’s already confided in you, you have an opening to do this. You could go back to her and say something like, “I really appreciate you confiding in me about what’s going on. I’m so sorry you’re having a tough time, and the last thing I want to do is add to that in any way! But I’m hoping it will be more useful to you in the long-run to let you know that I’m not sure the way you’re handling it at work right now is getting you the outcome you want. To be totally transparent, because people don’t know that you’re dealing with illness, there’s been a lot of grumbling when you call out near big deadlines. Because you’re telling people it’s a cold, they believe it’s a cold — and there’s been resentment about having to cover for you and work late if it’s just the sniffles. I think people would be much more accommodating and understanding if they knew it was something more serious. Obviously it’s up to you how you handle this, but I wanted to let you know that I think you might get a lot more support and help from people if they understood it’s not just a cold.”

You could also say, “If you decide you’re comfortable with letting people know what’s going on, I think there are some pretty straightforward tweaks we could make that would make your life easier, and that would help everyone else too. We could make sure your projects matched the hours you can work right now, and we could plan further in advance for when other people will need to pick up work. My sense is that you don’t want to have to do that, and I totally get that — but the reality is that people are having to pick up work now anyway, and this would be a way to make it easier on them — and also help them understand why it’s happening.”

Assuming you think this is true, you could also say, “I think people would be incredibly supportive if they understood what was happening, and I hate to see you lose that support just because they don’t realize what’s happening.”

And if she seems hesitant, you could suggest that she at least talk to your/her manager about what’s going on, so that that person can help her manage the situation.

Meanwhile, if you hear coworkers complaining about Beth, there’s not a ton you can say without violating her confidence, but you could try, “You know, she’s always been conscientious and high-performing, so if there’s a recent change, there might be a reason for that. We don’t always know what’s going on in people’s lives, but I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

{ 288 comments… read them below }

    1. Mazzy*

      I don’t agree that this is that rough. Having lupus doesn’t have a bad stigma so I’m not sure why one would hide it, especially with these sort of consequences. If it was 30 years ago and we were talking about HIV I’d get it. But that is not comparable. Beth needs to tell everyone she’s sick and then stop hiding the weekend work, for Heaven’s sake! The only rough spot is the one she made for herself.

        1. Mazzy*

          How is this lacking in compassion? Take the illness out of the equation. Leaving early and slacking off in public, not telling people why, and hiding that you’re doing work is self-sabotage.

          1. Jenna Maroney*

            I’m not doing hypotheticals. It is lacking in compassion. If you’re confused, look at the comments below mine.

          2. Seriously?*

            It is lacking compassion because you can’t take the illness out of the equation. It is the root cause and dealing with a chronic illness is always rough. In this case, keeping it secret is making it worse, but disclosing personal health information to coworkers can feel very invasive and vulnerable. Yes she needs to disclose, but it isn’t something that is no big deal.

          3. Marlowe*

            But you can’t take the illness out of the equation. The illness is materially the most important problem in the equation. Beth isn’t slacking off, she’s suffering.

          4. Liz600*

            As someone who’s had lupus for more than a decade, and dealt with many people who have no problems whatsoever treating me like a pariah upon finding out about my delightful autoimmune disease, I can say this with perfect clarity and absolute certainty: you have no idea what you’re talking about. At all.

            As others here have mentioned, “But you don’t look sick” is so frequently used to downplay or deny the experiences of many chronic illness patients that it’s become a running joke for us. How I feel, and what my disease does to me, changes every day. I have no idea how I’ll feel in a month, or even if I’ll be alive in a year. That’s just how lupus works for many of us. When I’m okay, I take on as much work as I can, because I love my work and I have no idea how long I’ll get to do it. I’m fortunate to work with coworkers who understand when I’m not feeling well that I need to flex my hours or adjust my projects. Not many people have that kind of work environment, and people like you contribute to that hostility so many others experience.
            If you haven’t experienced life with an invisible illness, and all of the judgment and callous treatment that people living that life have experienced, you can’t possibly understand what it feels like to deal with people like you on a regular basis.

            1. serenity*

              I’d also add that a large chunk of the population
              1) has no idea what lupus is or has never heard of it, and
              2) if they have heard of it, they have lots of misconceptions about it

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Yes, yes, yes!!!

                When I was diagnosed in 1986 (way surprised I’m still alive tbh…as are my doctors) virtually no one had heard of it.

                I also have Sjögren’s Syndrome just for some variety. Most people don’t know/haven’t heard about it. There is apoarently a tennis player that has it or something so at least some people outside of the rheumatology department know it exiss…

                1. Thursday Next*

                  By the time I got my dx 15 years ago, there was increasing awareness of lupus, but there’s still a long way to go.

                  Cheers to you!

            2. Laini*

              Yes, I’ve known people who have chronic illness, and even when there’s accommodation at work, they still face that doubt from people who assume they can’t possibly be ill or disabled because they “don’t look sick.” It’s hard to not only deal with pain/illness but also have to prove that yes, you really have a problem…

              1. Slartibartfast*

                THIS. And people who think because you can’t do some things, you can’t do anything. Let ME decide what I can do, even if I will pay for it later.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  And some days are really, really, really good days … “I rule the world” days. But they are few and far between.

                  Most days are a good couple of hours to wake up enough, wait gor meds to work, etc. for literally minimal ability function.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                Yeah like youre cheating or something. Last night I was side eyed (again) for using my handicap placard. …sigh …

                1. LavaLamp*

                  Ah yes. the cheating. I used to roll my chair into my bosses office for meetings because it was literally right there. Had a coworker ask me if I was being lazy. No, I just matter of factly responded that I have arthritis.

            3. RUKiddingMe*

              Lupus here as well (32 years). I was 23 when I was diagnosed.

              Want to guess how a young otherwise healthy *looking* woman got treated?

              Thankfully I’m kinda old now so I can use that as a reason for XYZ because it’s simpler than delivering an oral dissertation to all and sundry (again) about what Lupus is/what happens.

              And + on being treated like a pariah…a situation I know all too well.

            4. Gadget Hackwrench*

              Yeah, no idea what you’re talking about. Sorry. Not Lupus, but I’ve got another chronic illness of my own. Yes I have disclosed, no it doesn’t stop people from grumbling about my 30 min of flex in the morning. Disclosure is not a panacea. People don’t just chill out when they find out you’re sick. They complain how you need to suck it up and your accommodations are “unfair extras.”

      1. Sedna*

        I sincerely hope that you or anyone you love never has to experience the effects a chronic illness has on your life.

      2. PB*

        I don’t think this is fair. Chronic illnesses as a whole can be stigmatized, regardless of the specific illness. If Beth is choosing not to disclose, she may well have a reason. I agree with Alison’s advise to the LW, but we can’t call this a rough spot of Beth’s own making.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I didn’t read it as calling the illness as Beth’s own making, but how she’s handling it is of her own making.

          Going by the OP’s letter it sounds like Beth is in a cycle of push > burn out > guilt > push > burn out > guilt. In other words, it’s a repeating cycle of;

          1. Feel ok take on a lot of work
          2. Start to not feel good but keep pushing
          3. Hit limit and and call out/miss deadline
          4. Recover and Feel Guilty for #3
          5. Repeat #1 – 4

          I think what the OP is suggesting that Beth stops the loop back cycle and change #1 and 2 in an effort to avoid #3 & 4.

          1. Feel ok and take on a manageable workload and set realistic pace
          2. Start to not feel good make plans to get help with deliverables
          3. Continue to work with team to adjust workload/balance.

          As a team member I don’t really care what’s causing the ‘not feel good’; medical, emotional, self-induced, or totally out of the control of the person in the cycle. What I would care about is the constant cycle of missed deadlines and being left scrambling.

          The managing of this in a way that it’s not a constant and negative impact on the team is up to Beth. So that might mean taking on less or different responsibility, earlier warning if things are going south, or pacing herself more realistically.

          At the end of the day if Beth keeps up this cycle, she’s going to be the one that is the most affected.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Replying because I forgot to add this bit before posting;

            About the only thing the OP can do in this scenario is to mention to Beth what the general mood of the people who are working on the projects is. After that it’s up to Beth to make appropriate changes (taking on less time critical portions of the projects, seeking accommodations, or do nothing and face the potential repercussions and hit to professional reputation)

            To be clear, I feel for Beth and those in her situation. It’s not an easy situation, there are no ‘right’ answers and I truly think she’s doing her best.

            1. Mad Baggins*

              I really feel for Beth but I think she is digging her own grave with how she is handling it. I’m sure it’s incredibly difficult to manage one’s workload when one’s health fluctuates as it does with chronic illness, but I’m afraid she’s going to get herself fired just because people don’t know better.

              1. ThisIsWhyWeHide*

                I think it’s really easy to have that clarity from the outside, but her life is in turmoil and she may not feel ready to disclose. Beyond that your statement implies that if people did “know better” that her situation would improve. As someone who left my last job because of retaliation related to requesting accommodation for an auto-immune disease that suddenly became active, that is not always the case. We can hope that if she gives additional details to her team, it will help. But look at the replies above that are telling you that this often isn’t the case. People who knew and worked with me for years (and complimented my performance/promoted me) decided I was lazy and trying to get out of doing my job, when I asked for accommodations to help me do my job (and laid out for them exactly how the accommodations would help). I think Allison’s advice about how to handle the situation is great, but I think blaming Beth for her problems is a both a waste of time and a little callous.

      3. Audrey Puffins*

        Unfortunately, chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities are not as commonly met with understanding from everyone. Some people think if you don’t look sick, you aren’t as sick as you’re claiming to be, while other people don’t understand that a chronic illness is a chronic illness and although there may be good days, there’s no recovery as such. Even the most understanding workplaces can run out of patience accommodating a chronic illness, I wouldn’t blame anyone at all for choosing to keep their personal life to themselves, even if doing so can backfire.

        1. A tester, not a developer*

          Sing it, sister!

          If I hear “…but you don’t LOOK sick…” or “my sister had X, and she totally cured it by (going vegan, howling at the moon, smoking pot, dancing naked every Wednesday afternoon)” I don’t know if I’ll cry or scream.

          1. DrWombat*

            When I first got diagnosed with celiac, one of my coworkers (who was noticeably lacking in compassion in other areas) refused to believe it because I wasn’t skinny enough in her view. I clearly was too fat. Nevermind the doctor’s diagnosis, the 15lb weight loss in a little over a month, or the fact that my intestines had shut down to the point I had scurvy, I wasn’t skinny enough to be really celiac so therefore I was faking. I got other similar comments along those veins from some other people, but this person really took the cake with how vehement she was (even pre-celiac, when I was on a doctor approved diet to treat low blood pressure, she kept making rude comments about how unhealthy my diet was, nevermind that it was medically necessary). I try to keep celiac (and the new gut issue I am dealing with) to myself as much as possible if I can.

          2. Gadget Hackwrench*

            Or Yoga, or giving up gluten, or exercising more. You know, getting out and walking cures all kinds of things! Yeah well not *this* Linda.

        2. SystemsLady*

          Yup. I’ve got type 1 diabetes so I get the added bonus of people thinking the disease is my fault (just because SOME cases of TYPE 2 diabetes are preventable). Don’t even get me started on when I advocate for lower insulin prices.

          But most other chronic illnesses get “it’s all in your head” instead, which isn’t any better.

          I sympathize completely with Beth and understand why she’s hiding it. There’s also probably an element of feeling like she’s personally “losing control” (even though lupus often doesn’t afford you that luxury in the first place).

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          This. Even my husband of 14 years who had been through the hell that is my medical issues, including two months in a coma ten years ago, who fully understands and cares, who is still in for the long haul gets “fed up” from time to time.

          It’s short lived. He just needs a break. But he likes me way more than any employer/coworkers ever did.

        4. Classroom Diva*

          I was diagnosed with a chronic illness about a year ago. I was suffering from its effects years before that.

          My own family loves me, but just doesn’t even begin to “get” how tired I can be some days and how little energy I can have (while other days, I will be fine, or–even more common–I will be find enough for awhile and then “pay” for whatever I do later.)

          If I can’t get my own loving family to understand, I don’t even bother with people at work.

          Moreover, it just seems, I don’t know, embarrassing? In other words, I completely understand Beth’s reluctance here. When you’ve been the strong one, running things, managing things, and being very productive, and you suddenly can’t do that as well anymore, you do try to “hide” it a bit (or I do, anyway). I can’t explain it, but it just seems easier to try to cover for yourself (on weekends or late nights when you’re feeling better) then to try to explain how things have changed for you. This is especially true when you don’t LOOK any different, and when you do have good days.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            Yup. If you’ve never been so tired that you sleep in a chair fully dressed with your contacts in because it’s too much effort to get up, go to the bathroom, change, and go to bed, I am not sure if you can understand that without actually experiencing it.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I had to quit wearing contacts for just this reason. My son used to remove my glasses if I was sleeping, my husband does it now. But yay for no retinal damage.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            “I was suffering from its effects years before that.”

            This is such an important point. Most people with chronic conditions have years of suffering, doctors’ visits, disbelief that there’s anything wrong, particularly if they are female, being dismissed, told it’s hormonal (women), etc., etc., etc. I was diagnosed at 23. I know I was having symptoms by age 14 or 15 at the latest.

            I can’t count how many times I was dismissed because 1) female and 2) young. I get the “young” part to a degree, kids aren’t “supposed” to have a bunch of health issues in general, so most doctors who are not specialists aren’t looking for not-typical-for-a-kid-to-have conditions. If they don’t consider them though you never get the referral to the specialist who is more likely to look for them, even in a kid…and the cycle continues.

            However being basically shrugged at, dismissed, or hostilely disbelieved (IOW called a liar in not so many, or in so many words) being female thing is part of the patriarchal nature of medicine…though that’s a whole ‘nother rant.

          3. TardyTardis*

            I had a terrible time with my a-fib and my MVD, especially before my potassium got adjusted and I found a supplement that helped. No way could I manage the workload that I did the year before I retired, though; and now I’m getting hammered on my health insurance and may not have any till I turn 65. Whining? You bet. But I’m the caregiver for someone way worse off, so even taking a sick day seems like goofing off.

      4. Laura H.*

        Lupus may not carry the same stigma but chronic conditions- regardless of what they are- certainly carry some negative assumptions. And take an unknown and and varying resources to mitigate or treat!!

        It’s not your place (or mine) to deem how another deals with their condition accepts.

        Things take time, it’s not an easy or an obvious thing to confront your own condition or see the emergence of one in someone else.

        Good luck OP

        1. Shh Im Sleeping*

          Unfortunately, there are a group of “invisible” illnesses — and I’ve seen lupus on that list — that generally gets no sympathy or understanding from a lot of people who don’t “get it”.

          That said, I agree with the poster above that Beth needs to look at how her current work patterns affect her lupus and restructure things so she can be productive and not work herself into bed at or before the end of every project.

          And while I truly sympathize with her, I don’t think saying “leaving early is a seniority perk” is going to win her any fans either.

          Unless she knows that management will not be supportive, she really needs to ‘fess up and let her co-workers know what’s what.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Restructuring to be more productive is ideal. Planning Lupus is impossible. Things change sometimes hourly regardless of plans.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Interestingly enough, I could see this reducing or increasing her symptoms, too. I don’t have Lupus, but I know it can be exacerbated by higher stress levels. (Which may be why it hits around deadline time, beyond the ‘doing too much leading up to it’ part of the cycle. But then, worrying about what your coworkers are thinking after you disclose might also be sufficient for a flare….)

      5. Jesmlet*

        You don’t get to dictate how someone feels about their own illness, emotionally, physically or otherwise. I’m not going to tell you how to feel about things in your life and I think everyone would appreciate if you extended that same courtesy to everyone, even if they may never read your comments.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Nice how that works huh? I mean yeah Lupus is what it is but since women are the primary “victims” it only exacerbates any already preconceived ideas about women and illness. Ugh.

      6. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

        My feeling is, though, if you work with a bunch of score-keepers who natter about you taking sick leave at times not convenient for them, it is reasonable to have some concern about whether they will continue to center themselves as you take reasonable time off to deal with the illness, and whether that will affect perceptions of you and your still-respectable work output. That feels rough to me.

        But all justifications aside, I don’t really think you need to chide someone for finding a situation rough which you personally have a different reaction to, and I think your tone is out of line and unconstructive.

        1. Future Homesteader*

          This! I don’t know anyone who isn’t mean-spirited who would grumble out loud about other people’s sick time. Unless I know for sure that someone is calling out to go play at the beach and that choice is affecting my work, I – and pretty much everyone I’ve ever worked with – has given them the benefit of the doubt. People need breaks for everything from family crises to colds to mental health and they don’t owe us explanations.

          And if I ever *do* suspect someone of malingering, I sure as heck keep it to myself.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I don’t know, if someone repeatedly bowed out right when the workload ramped up at the end of the project – and all that work fell on my shoulders – and that kept happening, without acknowledgement, I’m only human and I would probably feel miss-used. Understanding somebody’s health problem would help me a) be more compassionate, but also b) as Alison said, make a plan that takes reality into account, so that I don’t keep trying to kick that same Charlie Brown football time after time.

          2. Rat in the Sugar*

            I can give someone the benefit of the doubt and believe them when they say they are sick, and still grumble because how they handled it. If one of my coworker’s is calling out on the reg, I expect them to start doing things like always having teammates CC’d on emails and keeping very up-to-date trackers and documentation of what they’re working on, so that any of us teammates can step in as needed and get the work done without scrambling or having to email urgent questions to someone sick at home.

            Also, I may be misreading the letter but it sounds like some of the days that Beth leaves people in the lurch she is calling out with cold symptoms, but at other times she’s just using “seniority perk” as the excuse, but still leaving before the deadline and causing others to stay late.

            Neither the fact that the team sometimes has to scramble to cover her work nor the fact that she sometimes uses “seniority perk” as an excuse mean that she’s actually malingering when she calls out, but when people are feeling grumpy and resentful I’m not surprised that it’s spilling over even when it shouldn’t.

            1. Temperance*

              She’s calling out for minor cold symptoms and leaving early. It’s totally reasonable to take her at her word – that she’s not that sick, she’s effectively abandoning the team because she’s there longer, and she doesn’t care about others having to pick up her slack.

          3. MissGirl*

            Disagree. If I have a coworker leaving me in the lurch right before a huge deadline because they have a runny nose, I’d be frustrated too. Especially if it cut into my ability to have a reasonable schedule and hours. You don’t do that to your staff. You don’t take a mental health day the day of a huge deadline and let other people pick up the slack.

            However, if I know my coworker is struggling with a difficult illness that has flared up, I would be much more sympathetic. If I knew they worked late to lessen the impact to me, they would have my eternal gratitude.

            This entire team could use more communication.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah, remember that the coworkers may have had to make real sacrifices – missing their kid’s recital, flaking on dinner plans, missing a doctor’s appointment, whatever that is – in order to pick up slack for Beth. If this is happening repeatedly, with no communication about the reasons, people are naturally going to be irked.

          4. JSPA*

            But if she’s airily leaving early and calling it a prerogative of seniority when it’s crunch time, that’s got to grate a bit.

            End that one bit of camouflage–express regret or remorse for not being able to push long hours–and the same absences would go over a lot better. She’s probably not saying, “so long, suckers,” but “taking what’s mine” statements can sour people fast, when they’re going over and above.

            More generally, if the company had the ability to hire someone extra, part time, but they don’t know that they have the need, everyone may be terribly overworked, with everyone clueless as to why, exactly, it’s suddenly so much worse. OP’s colleague could frame it as, “I’ve been doing the job of 1-1/2 people for years. Now I need to drop back to regular full time. So you may want to look into hiring someone to cover that extra half job I’ve been doing for you.” For someone senior, this may actually be a message that can be delivered straight up, without mentioning chronic illness.

          5. OxfordComma*

            I think two things are often at play.

            1. Many, many people either have no understanding of, or do not believe in chronic “invisible illnesses”
            2. If the person has been prone to tardiness, leaving early, going MIA, slacking, leaving people in the lurch, when they have a legitimate need to not be working, you now end up with “the boy who cried wolf.”

          6. Sarah N*

            But it sounds like Beth is not just taking sick time, but leaving early and claiming she’s allowed to due to “seniority” that others don’t have. From the perspective of the coworkers, Beth is basically taking off just because she CAN and leaving everyone else with piles of her work. This framing is a lot more problematic than actually using sick time/PTO.

      7. Thursday Next*

        It’s rough having lupus, in that it can be extremely painful and interfere with daily functioning. One year mine was so poorly controlled that I spent a total of a month unable to walk.

        So yes. It can indeed be rough.

        1. Mazzy*

          I feel like my comment is being purposefully misconstrued so people can argue against a straw man argument that I think lupus is an easy illness to deal with, and that is bogus. I wrote that her dealing with the illness in this specific way is of her own making. I’m clearly talking about how she is dealing with the problem versus what the problem is is what doesn’t need to be so rough. Take the illness out of the equation, and we’d all agree that working on the weekend and hiding it is being a bit of a martyr.

          1. BookishMiss*

            But the illness is an integral part of this situation, so it cannot be removed from any equation. Your insistence on doing so makes your comments seem lacking in compassion and a desire to help the OP and her co-worker. This isn’t a mathematical formula to balance – these are humans who deserve empathy.

          2. JSPA*

            You’re assuming that having any chronic illness in general, and having lupus in specific, does not also mess, big time, with your perception of your abilities (over or under); your perception (and the reality) of how people are seeing you; your perception (and the reality) of whether you’ll ever get another job if you lose the current one; your perception (and the reality) of whether your job is likely to try to make you redundant or otherwise slowly shuffle you off to a lower-paid position (etc etc etc). Lupus isn’t just hard physically. It’s an autoimmune response to your body’s own cells, and it can affect a vast, unpredictable and shifting variety of functions, including the brain. Dramatic brain involvement is rare, but mood and perceptual involvement is believed to be quite common. From https://www.lupusuk.org.uk/medical/nurses-guide/brain/ “Neurological abnormalities present in approximately 40-50% of those with lupus. Obviously this depends on presenting features and investigations. It is recognised that the figure is probably far higher if one includes the more ‘subtle’ forms of brain disease such as mood disturbances and agoraphobia.” One literally can’t fully separate skewed perceptions and / or disturbances in a patient’s decision tree from “having lupus.”

            1. Zillah*

              Yeah, I think that this is really important. Part of what’s going on beneath the surface is that people often don’t see the reactions and judgments that can make one hesitant to share information about health problems going forward, but part of it is that a lot of illnesses literally mess with your ability to read people and situations around you, and that’s every bit as much a symptom as more obvious physical issues.

          3. ChachkisGalore*

            FYI – honestly I do think your comment came off a little callous (just because it was easily misunderstood). However now you’ve clarified and I’m with you. I’m sympathetic to the health issue, but how its being handled is not appropriate.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I agree with this. I get people want to maintain privacy at work, but Beth’s manager, at the very least, should be clued in by Beth (not others) that there’s something more going on. As it stands now, her coworkers see her leaving early and she’s saying it’s a perk of having seniority, or calling in with mild cold symptoms. Meanwhile they’re left with a heavier workload and have to scramble to meet deadlines.

          4. Zillah*

            When someone is dealing with a chronic illness, there are a lot of layers that other people don’t see, and the compassionate thing to do is to acknowledge that rather than dismiss it. People rarely choose to make their lives more difficult for fun, especially when they’re grappling with a serious illness – and often, the way we choose to deal with serious problems is based on past experiences that people outside the situation can’t understand. There’s a tendency among people who don’t have experience with a problem to say “why can’t you just” – and the answer is often that there is no “just” and there is no real solution.

            There probably are steps Beth can take to improve the situation, and hopefully the OP can give her a little more information that will help her find them. However, your insistence on trying to separate out “the problem” and “how she’s dealing with it” says that you fundamentally don’t understand the situation – and if you feel that you’re being misinterpreted, maybe it would be a good idea to reconsider whether you’re phrasing things poorly rather than that everyone is just looking to argue that lupus sucks.

          5. dawbs*

            I think that’s because it reads like splitting the unsplittable.
            Ex: ‘theres this problem wheee im dealing with racism…’ , ‘well take race out of the equation…’
            ‘Thes this problem bbecause im not talk enough t8i reach the counter…’ ‘well- take height out of the equation…’
            “There’s this problem where I can’t pump at work…” “well taking having to feed a baby ot of the equation…”

            And I feel that also has ti do with the context of your comment.
            If you were, using my last example, taking the baby out of the equation bbecause the discussion is about boundaries with break times, that might be relevant. Taking baby out when a boss demands priorities of with over family would not.

            The discussion, when you commented, was 1 comment long and was compassion and empathy. Taking illness out if that is really kinda impossible

          6. Rectilinear Propagation*

            I’m clearly talking about how she is dealing with the problem…

            But that’s not what the comment you were replying to is talking about.

            If the first comment says, “Green beans are good” with the context being that they taste good, and a reply says, “I disagree that they’re good” then the reply means that they don’t think green beans taste good. No one is going to think that the reply means that they think green beans aren’t good for you nutritionally or that they’re too expensive.

            1. Thursday Next*

              I agree—I think the original comment’s placement as a contrary response to “That is rough” completely informed my reading of it.

              I think @dawbs is also right to point out that illness cannot be separated out of this situation, which makes Mazzy’s subsequent comment problematic.

          7. PersonalJeebus*

            I agree with part of what you’re saying–that Beth is making this situation harder on herself (and her coworkers) than it needs to be. But your tone isn’t coming across very well. Can you see that? This person has in the relatively recent past received a serious diagnosis, and she is probably still struggling to come to terms with what it means for her and what her best practices need to be going forward. Her illness is affecting not only her physical health but her mental and emotional health. Hopefully she can come back from latter to some degree, but it’s going to take time, and in the meantime calling her a “martyr” shows a huge lack of compassion.

            Again, I do agree that Beth is not handling her work situation very well, and she should make changes. But please stop assuming that you would easily do better in the same situation, and let’s definitely not make character judgments or call names.

            I know something about this kind of situation. I’m currently struggling to recover from several months of negative impact on my work due to depression. Although I suffered from the same illness many years ago, I wasn’t expecting it to come back, and when it did I spent some time in denial. My work started to suffer, I told myself I could fix it with some extra effort, I couldn’t actually fix it alone, and things snowballed. I was my own biggest saboteur. Of course the answer was to talk to my very kind boss and make adjustments/plans. But it took months for me to accept that reality and then muster the courage to be honest. I have rarely felt so vulnerable in my whole life. The answer may be quite simple, but executing it is very difficult and complicated for the person who has to do it. Until you go through this yourself, listen to those of us who know firsthand and check your tone.

          8. Jules the 3rd*

            If it clarifies it at all, I meant that having lupus (or any other chronic disease) is rough, which is why my first sympathy was to Beth. I think most people read my comment that way, not as ‘what OP’s dealing with is rough.’

      8. Helena*

        “Being chronically ill”, for whatever reason, still has huge stigma in many work places. It shouldn’t, but it does. Beth may be afraid of being sidelined, or even let go, if people think she’s no longer up to the job.

        It is similar to pregnancy (or potential future pregnancy, AKA being female) – there are plenty of environments where this will exclude you from future promotion because higher-ups assume you will be unreliable.

        Of course in this case Beth is actually being unreliable already, so the optics are slightly different. Better to be unreliable for a medical reason than unreliable because you’re a flake. But Beth may be hoping she’s hiding her illness well enough to avoid disclosing it.

        I would tell her (kindly) how badly she’s coming across. She may not realise how obvious it is that she’s struggling.

        1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

          “It is similar to pregnancy (or potential future pregnancy, AKA being female) – there are plenty of environments where this will exclude you from future promotion because higher-ups assume you will be unreliable.”

          And from high-level new projects (best give this one to Fergus, what if Beth has a flare-up,) opportunities (the regional director will be coming by Friday afternoon after we submit the llama genetics report!) and other rungs of the career ladder.

        2. Thursday Next*

          And people with lupus are overwhelmingly women. Lupus flares can sometimes be connected to hormonal cycles.

      9. Opal*

        I suspect it’s not so much to do with the stigma associated with the disease as it is the stigma associated with having a chronic serious illness that has no cure. Additionally, she may be struggling to even know, figure out how to work with, and accept the limitations that her disease has imposed upon her– and that’s a really hard adjustment to make from a personal/emotional standpoint.

        Also, she may be legitimately concerned that if it’s known, there may be consequences for her career–ones that are more serious than the current level of complaining. It isn’t legal for her employer to discriminate against her, but I’ve seen a lot of gray zone behavior and sniping over the years when someone has developed a serious disease (including cancer, in one case), become pregnant/had sick kids, had to deal with a parent’s health crisis, etc. Some people at the workplace are decent and sympathetic, others start saying things like, “well, X does have this going on, but it shouldn’t affect the work!” Or “I shouldn’t even know that Y has this problem, it’s her personal problem and shouldn’t be affecting me.”

        All this being said…I hope she does decide to let it be known, at least to her manager and HR. Mainly because if her employer knows that the problems are because she has lupus, that at least protects her from being fired without them trying accommodations first. I’ve seen people get fired and freelancers get blacklisted for some of what you’re describing, so her silence could be bringing a real risk.

      10. SignalLost*

        Lupus (and its cousin scleroderma) are effectively fatal illnesses. Life expectancy is demonstrably shorter among people who have those conditions. This leaves out the day-to-day of managing a chronic illness and the various hurdles that causes. I know one person with lupus who is now wheelchair-bound and another with scleroderma who has had four of the same specific surgery because her disease means the surgery doesn’t heal correctly; she’s considering assisted suicide if/when the latest iteration fails because of the pain she has. Not thinking that being told you have a terminal illness that will impact every day of the rest of your life is rough is … a strange way of seeing what is rough.

        1. Mazzy*

          Not thinking that being told you have a terminal illness that will impact every day of the rest of your life is rough is … a strange way of seeing what is rough.

          This is not the first time I’ve received a bit of a pile on on this site for things I didn’t even say. Honestly, this doesn’t happen on other sites. I don’t understand the lack of nuance in your understanding here. I clearly wrote that her work situation is being made rough by how she’s handling it, which has little to do with the actual cause of her needing the accommodation.

          1. Jenna Maroney*

            I say this as nicely as possible…. if this isn’t the first time you’ve been “piled on,” it’s probably something to do with either your worldview or how you express yourself.

            1. ChachkisGalore*

              Or that the pile ons have been a ongoing problem acknowledged by many commenters and even Alison herself (if I remember correctly – see the recent Friday open thread, maybe a month or so ago, where Alison was actively discussing issues within the comments and potential solutions).

                1. Hiring Mgr*

                  What’s reasonable, the piling on? You usually preach the opposite.. I can see how Mazzy might have phrased it better, but her explanation seemed to clear it up, no? (Not trying to derail or argue, just you’re usually all over the sniping)

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The responses seemed like reasonable replies to the original post. “Piling on” usually just means “there are lots of people commenting here,” which is a thing that happens with a large commenting community; it’s not a violation of any rules (although I’ll sometimes step in to try to redirect it if I see it in time and/or it goes on longer than it has here).

                3. ChachkisGalore*

                  Your site, you get to make the ultimate call, obviously…

                  However, my personal opinion is that this whole thread really is an excellent example of quite a few things that came up in that open thread (namely too much sniping, dog-piling on an unpopular opinion, non-regulars not receiving the benefit of the doubt that certain regulars do). Plus very much not in line with the commenting rules: be kind and you don’t have to convince everyone (that last one more in spirit).

                  Again, your site, you get to make that judgement call and I respect that. Just highlighting that this seems like a pretty solid real world example of stuff that was brought up in that open thread.

                4. Lissa*

                  This is just my opinion, but I’ve read this site for awhile and followed along discussions about the comments here and how people would like to see it, and to me – a big long comment thread all saying the same thing, about how wrong/bad someone is, is not great to see regardless of the original comment. If the comment is SO bad that no reasonable person could be OK with that view, in which case I think it should be deleted. I think dogpile threads are a problem even if the original comment isn’t great – at a certain point it just feels like people are getting their kicks in and not really adding to the discussion, which makes for an unpleasant read as well as fear that saying something that’s taken wrong will lead to 25 commenters all assuming the worst, or practising new ways to say “nope” without much content.

                  Like Chaki above me says, your site, your rules of course, but I think saying pile-ons are OK when the original comment deserves it leads to a bad atmosphere.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think there’s an assumption here that I do routinely tell people to stop piling on, but that’s actually fairly rare. It’s not a major focus of the moderation I do; it’s probably the moderation action I take least.

                  I don’t have any practical way to stop multiple people from replying to a comment, short of spending my entire day moderating and taking a far heavier hand than I do currently (which I don’t want to do, both because I don’t have time and because that’s not the type of comment section I’m interesting in hosting).

                  There are lots of commenters here; when lots of them disagree with something, there will be lots of replies saying so. You can call that a pile-on, or you call that “a site with a large number of commenters.” To me, this is the latter.

                  I do sometimes step in when it’s taking over the entire comment section, but that didn’t strike me as the case here as it’s confined to a single thread.

                  In general, I try not to intervene unless something is truly egregious. (Which is why, for example, I don’t remove comments that I simply disagree with. I remove them if they’re hostile or off-topic or otherwise violate the site rules. Sometimes I think things feel hostile simply because so many people are making the same point, but if you look at the individual comments, very few of them are hostile on their own; it’s that the sum of them feels different. And that goes back to there being a large number of commenters here.)

                6. chi type*

                  One thing to keep in mind when you see a “pile on” is that a lot of these comments are made at basically the exact same time (or while the commenter is reading an unrefreshed thread) and they just don’t realize they’re basically beating a dead horse.
                  I always try to keep this in mind and refresh before posting (what seem like) brilliant and unique thoughts. 99 times out of 100 it has already been said.

                7. a1*

                  There are lots of commenters here; when lots of them disagree with something, there will be lots of replies saying so. You can call that a pile-on, or you call that “a site with a large number of commenters.” To me, this is the latter.

                  To me, it’s both. If I see several people saying all the same thing, especially when it’s of this nature/tone, I just move on. Why add one more “You suck”? It’s overkill, it loses its impact, it’s unkind. The point has been made. This is what makes it a “pile on”. Just because there’s a lot of commenters doesn’t make it not so. I agree with the above about just deleting if it’s that bad.

                  All that said, it is your site so your rules. So take the above however you want or see fit.

          2. SignalLost*

            You really did not specify what you think you specified. If you find it’s part of a pattern of being piled on, consider whether you are being as clear as you need to. And don’t say things like “The only rough spot is the one she made for herself.” I’m sure she’s delighted to have to reconstruct her entire identity and life, and is able to do so on a timetable so her coworkers aren’t impacted. Equally, I’m certain that her employer will not, in fact, try to find ways to stop accommodating her so they don’t have to employ her. You simply never, ever hear about employers choosing to do that kind of thing.

          3. Kella*

            As Alison pointed out, you’re getting piled on for saying, “I don’t agree that this is that rough. … The only rough spot is the one she made for herself.” You’re getting piled on because we disagree.

            Her illness is rough. Fighting the stigma that comes with an invisible illness is rough. Letting go of your previous level of ability, adjusting to a new one, and believing that you won’t be rejected is rough. She may not even realize she has another option besides the one she’s currently working with. Companies aren’t always that forthcoming with the knowledge that accommodation and FMLA are actual things you can use.

            But I also disagree with this concept: “I clearly wrote that her work situation is being made rough by how she’s handling it, which has little to do with the actual cause of her needing the accommodation.”

            How she is handling it is a direct result of her illness and the stigma against it. I’ve worked for a number of places that would’ve expected her to just power through and shame her for looking for any kind of accommodation– even though that’s illegal. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re working for a place like that until it’s too late. She’s responsible for her response to her illness and the threat of discrimination from her employer, but she’s not responsible for being in that situation in the first place. And her response is totally understandable.

            There is such a thing as a good reason for dropping the ball. There is such a thing as having empathy and understanding for people who are going through a rough time and realizing that they might need help getting out of the cycle they’re in. You’re getting piled on because you’re repeating what you’ve already said instead of listening to the input of others who are affected by your words.

          4. Le Sigh*

            “Having lupus doesn’t have a bad stigma so I’m not sure why one would hide it, especially with these sort of consequences. If it was 30 years ago and we were talking about HIV I’d get it. But that is not comparable.”

            Not comparable according to whom, exactly? You? Those are your own words, and one of the points people are trying to make is that when you say things like this–in addition to disagreeing with the notion of what’s “rough”–it comes across as both insensitive and uninformed. First, there’s still very real stigma attached to HIV in the U.S. Maybe not 30 years ago-levels, but it exists and it impacts peoples lives, jobs, and how others treat them.

            Second, you’re comparing HIV 80s-level stigma to basically say, as I read it, “I don’t know why she’d hide it, it’s not like it’s HIV in the 80s, so what’s the big deal” as if every disease or chronic illness is the same. Maybe people aren’t trying to quarantine people with lupus, but as many have pointed out to you, repeatedly, they suffer quiet, but effective job discrimination, problems with being believed (from friends, family, and even doctors) — nevermind just struggling to digest the diagnosis and dealing with it. Just because it’s not as obviously, visibly bad as what people faced in the 80s with HIV doesn’t mean that people with chronic illnesses don’t suffer real-world consequences when people learn about it — so comparing the two makes it sounds like you fail to realize that, and frankly, for people who have spent years fighting that, dismissive. It’s not really a logical comparison.

            You said you don’t know why she’s trying to hide — people are taking the time to tell you why. Just because you don’t see doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Rather than argue and tell people they’re missing the nuance of your comment, maybe just absorb their comments and listen a little.

            1. Mad Baggins*

              “It’s not like she has an eating disorder!” Just cross out eating disorder and replace “HIV in the 80s”

        2. SystemsLady*

          I was unable to say the word “diabetes” for several years after I was diagnosed as a kid (and was an avid reader, so I read and fully understood the sections about complications the doctors advised me and my parents not to read yet). I completely understand what you’re getting at.

      11. The Professor is out to lunch*

        This comment lacks compassion, empathy, understanding plus basic reasoning skills. D-, see me after class.

      12. Michaela Westen*

        I don’t understand why she’s going to these lengths, but she’s probably making herself sicker by trying to work so hard and that is a good reason to find a way to cut back and take care of herself.

      13. Bea*

        We just played the “it’s not HIV” card…and acting like people still don’t freak out about HIV in 2018. I can’t take any of this comment seriously and feel it is exceptionally way out of line.

        1. all the candycorn*

          I was taking a first aid class at work and the instructor, a woman in her 60s, was peddling scare-stories about HIV transmission to encourage some of the younger staff members to remember to use their Personal Protective Equipment at all times.

          Unfortunately, she was using the myth that HIV is easily transmitted via mouth-to-mouth contact like kissing, and she didn’t tell them that there is a protocol in place to protect employees who have bloodborne pathogen exposures on the job via an accidental needlestick, blood splatters from a serious wound, etc. She basically said, forget your PPE and you’ll get AIDS and there’s nothing you can do about it except die.

          I was absolutely livid that she’d say something so irresponsible.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            “she was using the myth that HIV is easily transmitted via mouth-to-mouth contact like kissing,”
            IME this is done to scare people into avoiding sexual contact before marriage… and it works so well, right? Everyone ends up happily married and disease-free. /s

        2. Oranges*

          Thank you. That made me all of the grumbly. As to HIV reactions, please see our VP’s reaction to an outbreak when he was… senator(?) in Illinois. Then tell me there’s no stigma.

      14. Slartibartfast*

        Being diagnosed with a chronic illness rewrites your entire IDENTITY. This isn’t going to go away, ever. Your entire world changes, there is a grieving process for the life you used to have, and acceptance of your current limitations takes years. If Beth has just been diagnosed (6 months is very recent), she probably doesn’t even know what her limits are yet. Someone who’s been high drive and very active? Someone who’s always pushed through adversity before? This is HARD. To be able to say to yourself, yes I am disabled, differently abled, have limitations now, it’s a bitter pill I hope you never have to swallow. Life does not end when you get a diagnosis, but it won’t ever be the same. She’s going to have to find a new normal. Ske needs kindess, patience, and someone to be a sounding board, but Beth is the only one who can decide what to do from here. She does need to know what people are saying. She may not br ready to accept it. Tell her anyway. Don’t disclose what you know to the team, let Beth control that since so much is not under her control right now.

        1. Yet another Kat*

          ^ YES to all of this! Beth isn’t just trying to find a sustainable way to work with her illness, she’s trying to find a sustainable way to LIVE with it. Re-learning when you can and cannot push yourself in this situation is very hard and requires a lot of trial an error; and accepting that your body isn’t going to “work” the way it always has is quite difficult to work through on your own, never mind figuring out how to share it with colleagues who may hold it against you!

        2. Emily*

          Yes yes yes. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at 14 and it took me almost 10 years to figure out how to live with it on my own terms. And I very rarely disclose it at work.

      15. OP, Beth's Coworker*

        Hey yall, OP here!

        I am really bummed that this comment is the second one you see when you open the comments to my question. I know there’s already a pile-on but I just feel the need to defend Beth since I am the one that knows her.

        Beth is obviously having a hard time dealing with this situation and I don’t think that’s really something you get to “agree” with or not. I got the impression that this is a recent diagnosis for Beth after a long period of trying to figure out what she had. I don’t know much about lupus, but I can’t say I would handle it with perfect grace if I found out I had a lifelong incurable disease.

        That’s why I have a lot of sympathy here and want to find a kind way to address this with her… on that note, thank you, Alison for answering my question and giving me some scripts to use. I think you are right that she needs to know how she is being perceived. I am definitely not looking forward to this conversation but it’s the right thing to do.

        1. PersonalJeebus*

          You are a peach of a human, and if Beth does decide to disclose to others at work, I’m glad she will have you there as a source of sympathy and/or backup in the event she receives less-than-compassionate responses.

          Your “less than perfect grace” line hits it on the head. This isn’t just about being understanding of her illness and the limitations it places on her, it’s about understanding why people don’t automatically respond in the most “optimal” way when they receive such a diagnosis. Many of us would like to think we would be the model patient/coworker/loved one and do XYZ if it happened to us, but that’s rarely the case.

        2. LupusLady*

          Hi OP, a lupus sufferer here. If Beth is recently diagnosed (especially after spending a long time without a dX–very common for lupus!) she may be struggling with accepting that as well. I know I did and do. It’s one thing when people tell me I don’t look sick, it’s quite another when I struggle myself with accepting what limitations my disease brings to my life. I want to do all the things! I particularly want to be able to go outside and spend lots of time in the sun, which I can’t. I just _can’t_. I can’t stay up late, I can’t travel, I can’t work as hard or as well as I used to. My brain is foggy, my body is tired. It’s not a conversation she necessarily should be having with her boss, but …she needs to accept her new reality and work with it. Not telling people was one way I was able to avoid a lot of the problems other sufferers here have mentioned (discrimination, disbelief, etc), but not telling people and adjusting to my new reality was also a way for me to deny what I knew to be true: that my life was going to be different now and I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I wanted to. So to some extent, the Mazzy person everyone’s jumping on is right, Beth needs to figure out her new reality. (Although Mazzy is 1000% incorrect about the stigma of being chronically ill. Of the dumb things people have asked me about lupus: “Have you tried just cutting out gluten and dairy! That cures any autoimmune issue, you know.”)

          Anyway, I’m lucky. I got a job working from home, which keeps my stress levels and physical demands low, and my coworkers all know that I’m a spoonie, and I am able to manage and juggle prioritizing my workload in particular ways that let me get everything done, and they know if I’m sick or say “I can’t do this thing,” it’s real and I cannot and we work to get it all done.

          1. OP, Beth's Coworker*

            Thank you very much for sharing your experience with lupus with me. I will be sure to keep in mind everything people have shared with me in this thread about living with a chronic illness to be as supportive as I possibly can be. I appreciate yall opening up about something that must be exhausting to talk about to help the rest of us understand what it is like to live with a chronic illness.

            I am very hopeful that Beth and our manager will be able to come up with accommodations that will make work more accessible for her, once she’s able to identify what she needs. I don’t see why our job couldn’t be done on a partially work-from-home basis, for example.

            (I will absolutely never suggest she cuts out gluten and dairy. What a rude thing to say to you! As if you wouldn’t already have done that if it were just that simple!)

          2. TardyTardis*

            Beth’s boss may not be as helpful as she would like; I received negative feedback for taking more than a day to recover from an ablation attempt for my A-fib because it was end of the month (one reason she’s an ExBoss).

        3. Emily*

          As a person with chronic illness, I just want to say thank you. It was probably very, very hard for Beth to disclose to you. Hopefully your confidence and counsel will help her see that she can have a good life with her diagnosis and that many people will still see her as Beth, not That Lady With Lupus. Rock on.

      16. RUKiddingMe*

        Lots of people do think that those with Lupus and other autoimmune disorders (three for me…yay!) are being lazy/faking it.

        As someone with Lupus I have some standing to say that a lot, lot, lot of people don’t understand how debilitating it is.

        I have a spreadsheet (non urgent thankfully) that has taken me a month to get done because … I just can’t most of the time.

        Add to the fact that Lupus is an autoimmune disorder it almost always comes with the caveat “…but it’s not something you can ‘catch’ like HIV..,” in order to make those just learning of it feel at ease.


        1. Michaela Westen*

          When I was growing up I was sick all the time from unmanaged allergies and I got a lot of judgment also. The pounding sinus headaches and fatigue while at school trying to function normally were especially fun.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I blame the Puritans. There is a whole “work ethic” ideal that we are supposed to live up to…bootstrapping and all which leave no room for anyone not fitting into that particular mold. It deems them “lazy” regardless of their situation. Add in the invisibility of a lot of conditions… Work ethic, lazy, invisible disability…you’ve got the hat trick.

      17. anontoday*

        Letting people know you have a chronic, incurable illness can be very damaging for your career. For example when a previous manager found out about my illness, the promotion he had promised me suddenly evaporated.

        Another thing that happens is that people talk “did you know so-and-so has disease X’ and before you know it everyone knows that you have disease X, including potential employers. Who wants to hire a sick employee? I completely understand why this lady would hide the fact that she has lupus.

      18. Killroy*

        I completely agree, and I’m also skeptical that this person is ill (at least with lupus) at all. How convenient that her “symptoms” seem to kick in at times that will ensure her a longer weekend and when important deadlines come due. I’m also wondering why she would divulge her issues to the OP (an underling). I suspect she’s malingering as far as the lupus. Whether she has some mental health issues by virtue of the fact that she seems to have constructed an elaborate fantasy, who knows? In any case, I feel like the OP is a bit naive in accepting this explanation at face value.

        1. Jeevie*

          I have lupus and can speak to the fact that comments like this are why people hide illness. I work so hard that I literally can’t get out of bed on a Friday or Monday due to lupus symptoms. Educate yourself on the disease before accusing somebody of faking. Why would a high performing employee suddenly malinger. FYI – it could be something else because Lupus can trigger fibromyalgia, cause joint deformity and attack the kidneys, brain, and spinal cord.

        2. Slartibartfast*

          Pushing yourself too hard because there’s a deadline or something needs to be done NOW has a rebound effect. If things are already flaring up, and you Don’t stop when your body says you need to, your symptoms will be worse the next day. Stress also exacerbates symptoms for many chronic conditions, deadlines are stressful, everything becoming too much at deadline time makes perfect sense to me, as someone who actually lives with chronic pain. Learning to stay down and rest when the house is a mess and you have no clean underwear and the kids are hungry, but you don’t have any energy so it’s chicken nuggets (again), and you feel like a lazy slovenly turd because you should be able to do All The Things and other people just don’t get it… It’s very hard. Someone posted above about feeling guilty > pushing too hard > collapsing > not letting herself fully recover > feeling guilty, rinse and repeat. This is very true. This disbelief that you have, that the timing can’t possibly be related to her illness and she must be faking it is 1) WRONG and 2) a major contributor to the guilt that drives this vicious cycle. You aren’t helping, in fact you and your attitude are actively harmful.

      19. Jeevie*

        I have lupus and have dealt with a similar situation. It IS rough because people think we don’t look sick so assume we are faking or being dramatic. There is also a greiving stage when being diagnosed with a chronic illness.

    2. earl grey aficionado*

      Yes, best to both of you. OP, I was so touched by how kind yet practical you come across as in this letter. I have a chronic illness that is both embarrassing and debilitating (endometriosis) that affects my work life a lot. The effects manifest as both people being frustrated with me *and* people pitying me and not holding me to the standard I need to meet. Beth is lucky to have you as a coworker, since it seems like you’ve found a great middle ground between those extremes. I hope this situation resolves well for everyone involved!

  1. Lil Fidget*

    If you are friends with Beth, definitely encourage her to look at her FMLA options also. If your manager is hands off, it’s unlikely they’ll be proactive about suggesting this or helping her in the process. Once it’s in place, Beth could let other coworkers know she has FMLA coverage, which might clue them in without making her go into what the diagnosis is or how she’s handling it.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      (this isn’t my area of expertise but I understand there is an option for “intermittent FLMA” where she wouldn’t have to take off a block of time, but could gain flexibility in her hours to accommodate her medical needs).

      1. Sedna*

        I believe there is! In my (large, healthcare-oriented) organization, I was able to apply for intermittent FMLA that covered needed clinic visits after a medical event. FMLA also allowed me to take time off in increments smaller than the half day I’m currently allowed as an exempt employee.

        1. Gadget Hackwrench*

          It definitely does. I actually have an apt later today to get my specialist to fill out the forms for mine, since HR is up my poor boss’s butt about giving me 30 min flex to accommodate. He’s really understanding… they’re not. But intermittent FMLA is the answer to maintaining job security in this situation.

          Won’t help with grumbly co-workers though.

      2. Juli G.*

        You’re correct. Intermittent FMLA is used often for chronic conditions or the care of family members with chronic conditions.

        1. Bobbin Ufgood*

          Absolutely — I do the paperwork all the time and have a report who needs it — FMLA can be used for intermittent and unpredictable leave. It doesn’t have to be a single chunk or even predictable intermittent chunks

    2. Close Bracket*

      To get FMLA leave, Beth will have to reveal her condition on the paperwork. Definitely caution Beth that if she wants to continue keeping her condition private, she needs to make this explicitly clear to her boss and anyone else who might see the paperwork. It would be nice if there were no jerks who reveal sensitive information, even when there are regulations to prevent such revelations, but it happens ridiculously commonly.

      All this calculus is why people with illnesses don’t ask for medical leave in the first place and down play it by saying they have cold symptoms or ate too much.

      1. NW Mossy*

        This is one of the areas where working for a larger company can be a real blessing, because that can make it possible to silo the information about what specific condition(s) the employee’s dealing with.

        For example, in my company, you don’t submit your leave request to your boss or HR – you submit it to a specialist in leave issues. That specialist then handles all the paperwork and loops HR and the manager in on the only pieces they have a need to know – that leave has been approved, and on what terms (a block with a fixed end date, an open-ended leave, intermittent, etc.). The specifics of why are only ever known outside the leave group if the employee chooses to share.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        I definitely sympathize with this. It’s a bit of a double edged sword. Without FMLA, Beth may well end up summarily fired for her poor performance, with no consideration for her health problems. And in the great US of A she would also lose her work-sponsored insurance, which could be a complete disaster for managing her diagnosis. Having said that, it is absolutely her decision to make.

  2. Amber Rose*

    Hopefully you have a pretty good company culture about illness, but it’s something to consider. Definitely don’t tell her people would be supportive if they won’t. I was pretty upfront with my boss about my struggles with my illness, and basically got back a speech about how taking time off looked bad and that if ‘people’ were going to abuse their sick time then maybe it wouldn’t be offered anymore.

    If she doesn’t feel safe revealing her struggles, then maybe that’s something to consider.

    1. Riley*

      Ugh that sucks. I have a chronic issue that is getting better but I still have to leave an hour early for doctor’s appointments about once every other week. My boss is totally fine with this but one of my coworkers has started saying “I should be sick sometime so I can leave early!” whenever I inform him that I’m leaving early (which I have to do). Relatively mild on the scale of how frustrating coworkers can be about this kind of thing, but still frustrating. I certainly don’t blame people who are afraid of telling their coworkers anything about a medical condition or work accommodation that they don’t have to.

      1. just my opinion*

        Yep. My coworker once said to me “I wish *I* had a baby with autism” because I’m allowed to work from home 1 day a week when my 3 year old with autism has in-home therapy sessions. I visibly cringed

          1. Mad Baggins*

            I like this. “Since you said you were interested, let me give you some information about how I spend my time.”
            What an awful awful person.

    2. What's with today, today?*

      Yeah, I have Crohn’s and a lot of people are not supportive. You don’t look sick unless you are in the thick of a flare, and even then it’s not always noticeable by appearance. A lot of people just plain don’t believe you, or they think their irritable bowel syndrome is on the same level as your auto-immune disease and if they can handle that why can’t you handle Crohn’s(hello my Mother). Be careful saying most people will be supportive, in my experience that is far from true.

      1. Sickperson*

        And remember Crohn’s is not really that big of a deal because you can just magically cure yourself by just eating more kale/taking this vitamin/stop eating gluten and since you don’t do that you are obviously not taking your disease seriously /s. All kidding aside, I would go so far as to say that most people are not supportive and the vast majority of people are astonishingly ignorant (while also thinking they know more about it than you).

        1. Slartibartfast*

          I know someone with Crohn’s who had to have several feet of small intestine removed. Now she has a hard time keeping weight on because she can’t absorb as many nutrients as she should. She hears “I wish *I* could eat like you and stay skinny” ALL the damn time. Um, no, you don’t.

          1. Sickperson*

            I’ve had a foot or two of intestine removed myself! Apparently I have the world’s slowest metabolism so I am actually a tiny bit overweight (but struggle with several vitamin deficiencies due to my poor absorption) and apparently I don’t really have Crohn’s because I am not rail thin or it must not be that bad. You can never win with these people.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I’m thin partly because of body type and partly because of PTS and stomach issues (thankfully not as severe as Crohn’s). I’m careful about revealing how much I eat. I usually eat alone in my office or at home, so this is doable.
            One time a yuppie I had never met before asked “how do you stay so thin?” and I gave her a complete but concise answer. So satisfying! :D I highly recommend that. Give them all the details. While they’re eating. :D

            1. PJs of Steven Tyler*

              That’s awesome :) Good for you! Like when my aunt had breast cancer and was 90-some lbs at 5’10” with big farm-kid bones, and the lady in the next dressing room said how lucky she was to be so thin.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, and god forbid you ever suffer from depression or anxiety. Mental illness just isn’t a thing and if you stay home because of it, you just want an excuse for an extra day off. :/

        A lot of my sick days come from panic attacks.

      3. What’s with today, today?*

        Yeah, my Mom is visibly disappointed when I Gain the weight back that I’ve lost from a flare. I’m pretty much like, “well, that’s what happens when you can eat more than just chicken broth.”

    3. Zillah*

      Yes. And when you’ve received that reaction in the past, you’re often (understandably!) going to be less likely to be open going forward, even in situations where it would help – it’s just another way that our world really screws with people who struggle with stuff like this.

  3. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    What Alison has said is reasonable and wise; but the unknown factor is the coworkers. I’m facing this to a degree myself: I have a chronic illness, which means I go to a lot of doctor’s appointments. My coworkers are largely a bunch of seventh-grade mean girls who constantly keep track of when I come in and when I leave, to report me to the boss, who sides with them. I let my boss know in confidence of my chronic illness and what I’m doing to take care of it – also, I’m not missing any actual work or deadlines, and am a very high performer. I’m still shunned, I think because my illness is the kind that can be snobbishly labelled as one that “smart people who care about their health just don’t get” even though mine is hereditary. For the most part I can let it roll off my back, but it is tedious. The OP might be worried that people are going to be all “oh, GOD, she has the CANCER” and start getting looks, or even outright avoidance. I’d like to believe her coworkers would be supportive too, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

      1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

        HR sides with my boss. I’m working with the EEOC — this is part of a larger problem — but everything my employer has done is technically legal.

    1. OP, Beth's Coworker*

      Hello I’m the OP!

      When I sent this letter in I felt positive that if my coworkers knew what was going on with Beth they would be supportive for sure, because who wouldn’t be understanding of something like that? But after reading some of the comments like yours I am thinking I can’t be sure… now I am glad I haven’t said anything that might give away that I know she has something health-related going on.

      I think my plan is going to be to keep my mouth shut around my coworkers until after I talk to Beth, even if it feels bad to hear them talk about her critically. Then I’ll follow her lead on how to handle it.

      1. Zillah*

        I think that that makes sense – as someone who struggles with multiple chronic-but-largely-invisible illnesses, I just want to say that I really, really appreciate and respect your thoughtfulness and compassion here. I really hope a solution that works for everyone can be found.

      2. Tangerina Warbleworth*

        … which is proof that you have your thoughtful head on straight, which is a valuable quality.

      3. PersonalJeebus*

        This is a really generous and smart position to take. You’re absolutely right that it’s better for Beth if you can quietly tolerate the negative comments rather than let them goad you into revealing too much. Even Alison’s suggested script for the coworkers might be a risk, if you have any reason to think these people won’t be kind. It does sort of imply that you think something serious is going on. I’d clear it with Beth before using it. Let her tell you what kind of advocacy she wants, if any. (It sucks if she wants no help from you, but remember there’s always room for her to change her mind as her feelings about her illness evolve.)

      4. Temperance*

        So for what it’s worth, think about it this way: her coworkers feel that she’s been screwing them over for a long period of time (weeks? months?) and she’s been actively lying to them, too. It would be hard to be supportive under those circumstances, TBH.

        Think about it from their perspective, and think about how you felt before she told you what was actually going on.

  4. misspiggy*

    OP could also encourage Beth to discuss accommodations with her manager that enable her to work at times when she can deliver the most efficient outputs, rather than thinking that to be effective she has to work long hours.

  5. Dr. Pepper*

    I really hate it when people do this. Beth has put you in an awkward position by swearing you to secrecy. Yes, you should not tell others about Beth’s illness because it’s not your information to tell, but you are now forced to sit in silence (which most people take for agreement) while Beth’s team complains about her.

    I would definitely tell Beth how her behavior is perceived, and actually (for once) I think Alison’s script is a bit too soft. While there’s no need to be harsh, you shouldn’t downplay any of what is happening. To me, it seems like Alison’s script dances around just how big an impact this is having on Beth’s team and her reputation. In an effort to sooth Beth’s feelings and not pile more on her, the wording makes it appear (to me) that this is only something Beth might possibly like to address. People think she’s lazy, being a baby, and not pulling her weight. That’s a big deal. That undermines her credibility and authority. That’s the kind of thing that can be difficult to come back from once it’s cemented in people’s minds. I would hope that if her colleagues knew she was ill they would be understanding, but the longer they think she’s just lazy the harder it will be when the truth eventually comes out. Because if Beth carries on like this, *something* is going to happen.

    1. Genny*

      In addition to what her co-workers think of her work ethic, which she may or may not care about (who knows, maybe she’s such a rock star she doesn’t really need their glowing endorsement), she’s creating more work for them and forcing them to stay late to cover for her. To me, that’s the unforgivable part. I’m all for people taking the time they need to manage their health and life, but that can’t constantly be at the expense of your co-workers. If I were OP, I’d probably stress that problem more than the perceptions one.

      1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

        It does not sound like she’s creating more work – since she’s making up on weekends – or that they are staying late. I think they’re reacting solely to the optics of leaving before a deadline.

        1. Genny*

          By OP’s own admission her leaving suddenly and early on Fridays leaves the team scrambling and working late.

          “I have a coworker, “Beth,” who calls out right before big deadlines complaining of mild cold symptoms. The rest of the team has to scramble to cover her work. She also often leaves early, usually on Fridays and with little or no notice, so the rest of us have to work late to make up for it.”

          1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

            Yeah, that’s fair – I had gotten the impression she was making it up, but on reread, thats not the case.

            1. Close Bracket*

              She makes up her hours on weekends, but if she is out sick the Wednesday before the deadline, working the following Saturday still leaves her coworkers scrambling.

            2. Genny*

              It’s possible Beth is assigned tasks A, B, and C. Task A is integral to the project, tasks B and C can be done any time. When Beth leaves early/calls out, none of the tasks get done and the team is scrambling to cover task A. To make up for being out, she does tasks B and C on the weekends. Her coworkers don’t have visibility on those tasks, so they only see her leaving them in a lurch with task A. I assume that kind of arrangement is why she can simultaneously be getting all her work done, while also leaving the team in a lurch.

              1. bonkerballs*

                Yeah, that’s how I’m reading it. She’s making up her hours, but not necessarily making up her work since she’s working herself so hard with her illness that she’s burning out right before the end of the project. Also, I ready it as she’s making up the hours when she leaves early but not necessarily when she’s out sick. But maybe I’m wrong.

    2. AMPG*

      I agree that the script is softer than it needs to be, and also that it focuses too much on perception and not enough on actual impact. I think it matters less what people are saying about Beth behind her back and more that she’s leaving her team in the lurch by not planning properly for her absences. I think it’s much trickier to have a conversation around the subject “everyone’s talking about you behind your back” than around the subject “the way you’re handling this is making it harder for us – it will be easier for everyone if we can work together on a solution.”

    3. smoke tree*

      It does seem like Beth is handling the situation sub-optimally, but I think that’s understandable. It sounds like she’s struggling to adapt to not being able to do everything she used to be able to do, which is incredibly frustrating. I think it would be compassionate to approach her with the softer approach. It sounds like Beth is very concerned her work performance, so it seems likely that she’ll be receptive to the conversation.

  6. OxfordComma*

    This is tough.

    I agree Beth would probably benefit by knowing what people are saying about the situation. She’s got a reputation now. Even if she were suddenly back in perfect health, it would take her years to repair it. If Beth knows what’s being said, and can take some steps, it’ll go along way toward helping.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Yep. I’ve been put in some awkward situations lately. My two best friends are an older dude… And his daughter who is half my age. So you can imagine about keeping confidences and having to say “I really can’t comment. No, I really can’t. But I think you should ask [other party] about this. Nope, no reason…”

      So OP I totally sympathise with seeing something going on but being unable to give out the relevant info to make things better. And as OxfordComma says, you have to really encourage Beth to share the info. Point out that you’re in a difficult spot, if needs be. (“I hate that I can see people judging you, and if only they knew the situation I’m sure they’d be kind. I don’t mean they’d be pitying, I just mean genuinely understanding. I can’t make a decision for you but wow, I just wish I could help. It must be so hard for you juggling all this.”)

      All you can do is encourage her to share it – in a kind way, not a nagging way – you can’t do it for her, but OP I agree with OxfordComma, and I feel for you too.

  7. Nep*

    I have an autoimmune disease and I support AAM’s message. (Also tell her to get on FMLA stat if she can.)

    There may still be some people who judge her even if they know she’s seriously ill or in treatment. I had at least one coworker (who was trying to be my manager) who lectured me about how I was missing a lot of things and ought to be thinking things through when I was just diagnosed, on a whole lot of of drugs, barely sleeping, and barely there. I’ve never forgiven her for that.

    But I had more coworkers (and my manager) asking about my health, making sure to cut me slack, and understanding that I was not at my best.

    It would help her and the team to have realistic expectations of what she can accomplish. She probably doesn’t want to admit how much she is limited right now. It sucks not being able to do what you want to be able to do.

    I’m very glad you’re in her corner. I wish you both the best.

  8. LadyPhoenix*

    If she is taking weekends and running herself ragged, this may be an issue that should be discussed with ths boss. They might have an inkling about the situation and can give her accomadations to help with her workflow.

    However, I feel this has to be something SHE has to talk to her boss about. Some maybe encourage her to go, but try not to push unless she gets really sick or hurt.

  9. Temperance*

    LW, Beth has put you in a rough spot here. While it might be tempting for some of the commenters to throw shade at her coworkers, Beth has been calling out with mild cold symptoms when the team is on deadline and claiming “seniority” to leave early. She looks like a jerk to the team.

    There’s nothing you can say to your colleagues without disclosing her illness. Wishy-washy statements like “oh you never know what’s going on in people’s lives” will just either annoy your colleagues (who are getting railed with extra work, thanks to Beth) or lead to speculation.

    1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

      That’s a fair point – claiming perks of seniority isn’t going to come off well to people still slaving to get a deliverable in by a due date.

      1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

        Yeah, that’s fair – I had gotten the impression she was making it up, but on reread, thats not the case.

    2. Bea*

      Exactly my thoughts.

      She’s trying to stay private and I can respect that. However you only know what you know, I’m not going to assume someone is much more ill than they tell me they are.

      I’ve seen and used this behavior to look for new work or just give up due to burn out. Assuming someone is actually battling a major chronic illness would be so limited in the reality, most of us won’t accept that idea at all.

      1. PersonalJeebus*

        The fact that this has become a pattern when Beth was a strong performer before makes me hope that, if I were one of Beth’s coworkers, I would develop an inkling that something else was going on. If I saw a coworker repeatedly getting sick (even if it’s just a cold) near the end of every major project, I might wonder whether they’re okay. “Ask what’s going on” is common advice from Alison to managers whose reports are doing stuff like this. However, it’s a lot easier for us to spot the pattern from the outside, when we’re getting the story from an OP who already has most of the big picture.

        In any case, there IS a pattern of behavior, and I’d hope that would make Beth’s diagnosis believable if she does disclose it at work.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          Yeah, this is tough because we want to think that Beth’s coworkers would ask, but I can also see them writing to AAM: “My boss/coworker skips out on deadlines for colds and ‘seniority perks’, I’m drowning in extra work” and commenters being chastized for advice column fanfic like “maybe she has lupus and is trying to hide it.” This is why communication and appearances are so important.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, I mean, I sympathize with Beth who is clearly suffering, but if I had a boss who left early and claimed it was a “seniority perk” such that we had to scramble and work late, and was making up the work but only on the weekend and was actively hiding it… all I would see was someone who kept leaving early and claiming that it was a special privilege, and yeah, I wouldn’t be all that compassionate. And yes, the combination of those things would probably make me twitch an eyebrow at calling out with vague cold symptoms right before a deadline, because it would have eaten through a lot of my goodwill already.

      Sure, in theory, I should be compassionate of everyone in a general sense, but I’m human and I’d be grinding my teeth. I think that’s a big piece of the puzzle that Beth is missing: the way she’s covering this up is making her look cavalier, possibly even callous. (But I don’t think LW can say that, unfortunately, as Beth is senior to her.)

      1. PersonalJeebus*

        “Callous” is probably too strong to say, but I think the OP can say “cavalier” when describing how Beth is being perceived right now, because it’s the direct opposite of what Beth is going for. Based on the description of her actions, I bet she is desperate to be conscientious but is struggling to balance that against protecting herself. If I were pushing myself as hard as I could, working weekends, feeling guilty about my dropped balls, trying to make up for them … and someone informed me I was still perceived as cavalier because people didn’t have crucial information … that would be a wake-up call. Painful but necessary.

    4. smoke tree*

      I agree that mentioning something vague about not knowing what is going on in her life is likely to just make people (correctly) suspect that you know more than you’re letting on and speculating about what it might be. I think just talking to Beth about it is likely to be more effective.

  10. gecko*

    For talking with the coworkers, I actually wouldn’t come at it from “we should give her the benefit of the doubt” angle, I would make it more personal. “You know, I like her and I’ve always thought she’s worked really hard. It can be annoying when she calls out, but there could be other stuff going on in her life, and I don’t want to jump down her throat for that.”

    That’s not keeping completely mum on the information that Beth gave you, since you’re sort of hinting that you know other stuff is going on; but I think a moral “we shouldn’t” approach is less effective than your personal strong opinions.

    Beth should, however, absolutely be told about the reputation hit she’s getting. I think the trick will be warmth and specificity. Alison gave really good scripts. I think that apart from the tone, a key will be avoiding phrases that ping the “this feels like seventh grade” antennae; so try not to talk about what “everyone” is saying, and keep focused on the concrete things you think would help.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Respectfully disagree with the shaming approach, however polite. The co-workers have things going on in their lives, too. Chiding them to consider whether Beth has a good reason for repeatedly ditching work on them and making them stay late by pleading “seniority” is not likely to go over well with an employee who has their own chronic illness or is a caretaker, or really who also has stuff going on that is being impacted by Beth managing her illness poorly.

      1. gecko*

        Huh, didn’t read to me as shaming when I wrote it, but ultimately meaning is in the ear of the beholder. Back to the drawing board ;)

          1. PersonalJeebus*

            I don’t see that, either. Every pronoun in the script is either “I” or “she.” There’s no larger point about what “we” should do; it’s all about the OP’s personal feelings and their reasons for seeing the situation a certain way. Leaves a lot of room for disagreement.

            I suppose it would probably go over differently in every group, though–know your workplace culture!

            1. Temperance*

              I think it would be more shaming if it did use “we” as a pronoun, but no matter the pronoun, you’re responding to people with (valid!) complaints by hinting that their slacker colleague is a good person, look on the bright side, etc.

    2. Temperance*

      I really disagree with this advice. You can’t say “I’ve always thought she’s worked really hard” and cite the “other stuff going on in her life” without also annoying your colleagues.

      Beth is repeatedly calling out when she’s needed, and leaving early when she’s needed, and claiming a minor health issue and “seniority”. She looks like a jerk to her colleagues because, on its face, this is jerk behavior. We’ve all worked with that one person who doesn’t show up at the most critical times, and Beth is that person.

      We’re operating from a place where we know about her health issues. Her colleagues don’t, by her own choice.

      1. gecko*

        Sure, but the fact of the matter is that Beth does have mitigating circumstances to calling out all the time, and the LW does know those mitigating circumstances. If they don’t want to speak up on Beth’s behalf then that’s fine, particularly because Beth is being genuinely annoying; but if they do want to say something to their colleagues, then I suggested another option.

  11. Nita*

    I think a big reason that Beth is acquiring a “reputation” is that the timing of her bad days regularly leaves the team scrambling. If she were up-front about dealing with a medical condition, they would be able to plan ahead, and hopefully would not judge her as harshly as they do now. OP should definitely encourage her to talk to her team, at the very least. It seems like a recent flare-up, and maybe Beth is just so stressed she cannot see there are better ways to handle the situation.

    It’s also possible that talking to her boss would mean a lower workload, which would mean she doesn’t have to push herself as hard, and doesn’t get sick right before deadlines. But that’s riskier – depending on the workplace, it may just as easily result in Beth being demoted, or squeezed out of the job altogether. (BTW, does lupus qualify one for ADA protections?)

    And it’s possible that she doesn’t want a lower workload because she needs her full-time salary – but in that case just being more open about doing some work after hours and on weekends would help.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yes, that’s what needs to happen: Beth needs to assign herself the tasks that are less time critical or can be done upfront or done over time. Ideally, she can contribute without being the One Key Anchorpoint of the final stretch. Also, cross-training. Also maybe making herself more generous deadlines with more ‘give’ than usual. She sounds like she’s not quite self-aware about the real impact of the current situation. Unfortunately, with OP being junior, it may be tough for her to get Beth to shift her perspective until she’s ready. I do sympathize with them both.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Lupus often qualifies as a disability under the ADA. OP may want to consider referring Beth to that process, also, so that she can receive the accommodation she needs and her manager can better allocate work in light of those necessary accommodations.

    3. attornaut*

      Almost anything qualifies under the ADA. It’s about how severely it impacts a person’s life, not a specific diagnosis. Seems likely that a chronic condition that apparently is impacting her work in this way would qualify, but it’d be determined by her personal symptoms.

  12. Kate*

    Oooof this is a toughie. I also have a chronic illness, and used to be considered a high performer. Maybe I still am, but I have my doubts. Realistically, it is going to require a really painful identity shift that I feel wholly unprepared for.

    I’ve worked in three jobs with different management teams since my diagnosis, and all three have had wildly different approaches to my illness and performance.

    Job #1: I would work from my hospital room and still get in trouble for not turning around documents fast enough. Of course, that meant that I would push to return to work faster than I realistically should have, I would crash and wind up back in the ER, and the cycle would begin again. It was a nightmare, for both me and my coworkers.

    Job #2: best job ever for chronic illness, not best job ever for me as an employee. My boss also had a chronic illness, so she “got it”. My work was largely self-driven, so my impact on coworkers was minimal. Unfortunately, for someone used to being a high performer, I was going CRAZY. This was a job suited for me at my sickest 10%, not the rest of the 90%.

    Job #3: based on how things were going at job #2, I mistakenly thought things would be okay at job #3. I forgot that higher stress = less margin for error and/or recovery time when my illness flares up. My boss is understanding enough, but it is admittedly hard to explain that “the drugs I take for my illness reduce my immunity to other illnesses and heyyyyy I came down with an illness you have only ever heard of from Little House on the Prairie ten days before Major International Event I am Organizing”.

    Based on the above, even if Beth really doesn’t want to disclose to her coworkers (which I totally get), she at least needs to confide in her boss. Then they have the opportunity (not that all managers will take it) to readjust team deadline/expectations/workloads if necessary, and/or have a ready explanation prepared if/when Beth’s coworkers approach them with their frustrations (which, in many cases, would be justified).

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It does stink – ideally the best role for someone struggling with health problems would be on where there is lots of advance notice of the big tasks (so you can frontload) and no like, “on-stage mission critical big days” that are very stressful/can’t be missed. There are careers that tend to be structured this way but it’s not every job, and it may not be the career the sufferer is passionate about.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      I had stress-related illness a few years ago and my providers explained how stress makes existing health problems worse. Increased stress can cause a person with a bad back to get spasms, a person with a sensitive tummy to get an upset, and so on.
      Beth getting worse just before deadlines and events sounds like stress-related flares, so maybe take that into account when rearranging her workload… give her plenty of time for deadlines and/or find ways to take some of the pressure off…
      Kate, if you didn’t already know this, maybe this will help you too!

  13. mark132*

    IMO, Beth needs to act fast to loop in her Manager and probably coworkers as well. She is rapidly burning through all her accumulated goodwill. She will need this goodwill to get the help she needs to recreate her work environment to match her abilities.

    1. leaf blower*

      Sure, but she’s not the one writing for advice and the OP is junior to her – she can’t make her tell people!

      1. mark132*

        Fair enough, I should have completed my thought. If the OP can just tell Beth this (politely). I’ve offered advice like this to people senior to me before, and it usually goes ok.

  14. Rockie*

    If I have any phobia at all in life, it’s discussing personal matters at work. Including if I’m sick for any reason. Honestly, I’d quit before I’d be forced to discuss something like this with my coworkers. Some prefer their privacy, especially when it comes to something about their own body.

    1. SignalLost*

      It’s really not fair to your coworkers to refuse to let them know there’s an issue beyond a cold when they’re having to cover for you. So it’s probably best that you would quit. I’m curious to hear how you would manage the situation at your next job, though – wait until all your coworkers are angry about having to do your work and then quit again? At some point, you’ll have trouble getting a job that even meets your minimum needs.

    2. FD*

      I mean, you can make this choice. However, bear in mind that we’re talking about a situation where a person is in a situation where they could very much benefit from having some ADA accomodations. However, in general, the employee is supposed to ask for the accommodations they need rather than the employer assuming someone needs something–a person knows their needs and condition best. So if a person chooses not to disclose what’s going on, they can make that choice, but they might actually end up giving up on accommodations they could have been granted.

    3. McWhadden*

      But, in that case, you should still discuss it with your manager. It’s just not reasonable to have excessive absences without explanation.

      You and your manager can decide to keep it between yourselves. Although, I think not being willing to say “health issues” (without being more specific) are the cause of your being out will end up causing resentment among co-workers. They won’t understand why you are given more leeway than they are.

      As a private person, would you really want co-workers endlessly speculating about what is going on with you?

    4. LadyPhoenix*

      But if you are an anchorpoint and you pull that stunt, you’re gonna be burning a lot of bridges over what be just a molehill.

      It isn’t like you have to be a Howler and send everyone a schreeching, “HEY I HAVE A CONDITION!!!!!!”, but instead rope in a manager to make some accomadations.

    5. Could be Anyone*

      I completely understand this, but I think you can at least say ‘I’m dealing with a serious illness’ and leave it at that.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Or at least volunteer for the parts of the project you’re likely to be able to add the most value to, given your situation: don’t offer to be the lynchpin on D-day, create the expectation that your share may need to be the up front parts, whatever that looks like. Clearly something is not working with Beth’s current approach since people are upset with how projects are going.

    6. Bea*

      That’s your choice and I pray you’re never in a place where your hand is forced. Often people do quit or worse are fired because their inability to work due to illness is seen as laziness or inability to preform to standards. Whereas if we can put accommodations and planning in place there is a balance.

    7. Lehigh*

      And it’s possible that Beth could feel the same way. I don’t think it’s super common, but I guess I wouldn’t know for sure.

      I still think LW should mention to Beth how she’s coming across. Then if Beth feels she’d rather have a bad reputation than be known to be ill, she can make that decision. And hopefully OP can stop feeling bad about her coworkers’ comments–since it will, at that point, have been Beth’s choice.

  15. Czhorat*

    There’s a lesson here in not assuming AND in not participating in hostile or disparaging chatter.

    I like the advice to tell people who complain that they never know what is happening behind the scenes, what struggles they have, what extra time they’re putting in. Overall, complaining about someone’s laziness can be part of a culture of complaining, back-biting, and general petty nastiness. This isn’t a good atmosphere, and can turn against you or your other coworkers in the times when they have a downturn for whatever personal reasons.

    It’s great for OP to want to do this for Beth, but it’s a way in which we should speak about ALL of our coworkers, whether we know for a fact or not that they have hidden struggles. So many people do, and so many of us judge without knowing.

    1. neverjaunty*

      People judge based on the information they have – and Beth is not only withholding information, but actively misleading people. I really don’t understand why the co-workers are terrible people because they are tired of scrambling to cover for Beth.

      1. grace*

        +1. They’re probably kind people who would be horrified if they knew – but they don’t. Beth is deliberately hiding information from them that would lend them to think kindly of her; instead, she’s acting in ways that actively make their jobs harder.

        I’d be upset, too, were I her coworkers.

        1. Marlowe*

          We don’t know that they are, though. It’s equally possible they wouldn’t react well to the revelation at all.

            1. Marlowe*

              Because people can as easily be horrible as they can be kind. It’d be wonderful if there could be a consensus in Beth’s favour, but it’s understandable that she should be scared of a less desireable outcome.

              1. neverjaunty*

                “They might be horrible, so continue to make them scramble and stay late for you while you tell them you’re pulling rank” does not seem a good approach? Of course it’s understandable that Beth has concerns about how she will be perceived – but that still doesn’t make her co-workers jerks because they are upset with her NOW.

            2. PersonalJeebus*

              Because of the jillions of comments above from people who have experienced that exact scenario. Clearly it’s a common one.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Yes. I think we can have sympathy for both Beth *and* her coworkers. If Beth doesn’t want to reveal a potentially stigmatizing illness, that’s understandable. If the coworkers are fed up with scrambling to pick up balls that Beth has dropped, and double fed up with hearing “I’m leaving early cuz Seniority Perk!” that is also understandable.

          If I were OP I’d tell Beth that, whatever else she decides to do, to cut out that “Seniority Perk!” stuff pronto. If I were Beth’s coworker, hearing that would frost my cookies more than just about anything else.

          1. PersonalJeebus*

            Thank you!! Yes, we can be sympathetic to both sides and demonize neither. Both are acting less than perfectly right now. Both have understandable reasons.

      2. PersonalJeebus*

        I didn’t see anything about the coworkers being terrible people, only about the wisdom of giving our coworkers the benefit of the doubt and how we can be *better* people.

        It’s true Beth is actively hiding information that might change people’s response if they knew, and right now they have no way of knowing. However, it’s clear from comments further up (from people who have disclosed illnesses) that the changed response might be for the worse, if the coworkers are ignorant. Beth has plenty of good reasons not to jump at the first chance to tell everyone her diagnosis.

        The other thing that gets me about this situation is that Beth hasn’t been acting this way from the start; there’s been a significant change in her behavior and performance over time. *That* is what would give me pause if I were her coworker. If someone (especially someone who used to perform well) is acting really differently than they used to, there’s a reason, and it’s probably not because they suddenly caught a crap personality.

    2. Temperance*

      Okay, but look at it from the coworkers’ perspective: they have someone regularly bailing on them at critical points, and citing “seniority” or “minor cold symptoms”. They aren’t assuming that she’s flaking out, she’s telling them that she’s flaking out. Maybe these people are stuck canceling their own plans because of Beth’s perceived laziness.

      These people aren’t villains. They’re visibly getting screwed over by a colleague who craps out when needed. I’ve had to cancel plans to cover for colleagues in the past, and it has always peeved me off (unless there has been an actual good reason).

      1. Lehigh*

        Yes. Knowing Beth’s actual situation, of course we feel sympathetic toward her and wish she were not dealing with so much. But haven’t you ever worked with someone who was just lazy? With the info that the coworkers have now, I’d probably be wishing this person would get fired. I know that’s not nice, but she’s not pulling her weight and she’s acting like she’s doing it on purpose.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, “seniority perk” is possibly the worst excuse that she could come up with (short of, I don’t know, “I’m going home to play in my Champion Puppy-Kicking League”) because it makes the absences sound totally discretionary and not necessary in any way, and in a “I get to do whatever I want because seniority, and you just have to suck it up and work late” way. She’s actively making it look like she’s doing it flippantly. She isn’t, but boy, that would not go over terribly well anywhere I have ever worked.

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            Yes, the “Seniority Perk!” excuse would grind a lot of gears. I think we can be sympathetic to Beth without painting the coworkers as villains. It’s not selfish and “mean girl” to resent having extra work dumped on you all the time, and *really* resent hearing what can sound an awful like “I get to leave work early cuz Seniority! Enjoy your late nights at work, buttercups!”

      2. Czhorat*

        Understood (and that goes for everyone here). My point is that they are judging (very naturally) and angry (understandably!) based on what they know. What they forget — what it’s easy for all of us to forget — is that we never know everything. Your “slacking” co-worker? Maybe they have marital problems. Or an illness. Or a loved family member with an illness. An invisible disability. A mental illness. A million other things.

        Or maybe they’re just lazy.

        The point is that we don’t know, and it’s easy to forget that many, many people have struggles in their lives. The kindest thing is to assume that there very well may be reasons we don’t see, and to have compassion.

        1. Thursday Next*

          I completely agree. We can never know everything about another person’s life. The best we can do is seek discussion and adjustments when someone else’s actions adversely affect us. And it’s best to come to these discussions from a place of compassion or at least neutrality, rather than accusation.

        2. bonkerballs*

          I have to say, I disagree. Strongly. I’m not going to assume I just don’t know what someone else is going through every time someone treats me crappy. That’s a surefire way for me to end up getting walked all over. And let’s be real, Beth is treating her coworkers pretty crappy. It sucks what she’s going through, absolutely. But she’s forcing her coworkers to deal with it in ways they shouldn’t have to.

  16. Sara without an H*

    OK, OP says that their manager is “very hands off.” So has Beth actually briefed her manager?

    “Very hands off” does not necessarily mean “uninvolved to the point of professional malpractice.” I can recall several past posts in which staff hadn’t consulted the manager on the assumption that he/she didn’t want to know.

    Obviously, some organizations have healthier cultures than others, but if Beth’s manager doesn’t know, she needs to be briefed ASAP. If the organization has an HR function, then Beth really needs to talk with them. Intermittent FMLA is, indeed, a thing, and could be extremely helpful.

    I agree with Alison that, since Beth is senior to OP, it needs to be handled tactfully, but she really needs to know that the strategy she’s using so far isn’t working and may make stuff more difficult for her down the road.

    And I’m troubled by a subtext here that I think I’ve seen in other posts: 1) High performers are self-sufficient; 2) high performers just power through stuff; 3) acknowledging any change of circumstances in advance will undermine your professional credibility forever after.

    Lupus is something you just don’t power through. (Neither is chemotherapy.) If OP can convince Beth that she needs to be a little more open about her situation, she’d be doing her a favor.

    1. FD*

      And I’m troubled by a subtext here that I think I’ve seen in other posts: 1) High performers are self-sufficient; 2) high performers just power through stuff; 3) acknowledging any change of circumstances in advance will undermine your professional credibility forever after.

      I don’t think it’s exactly that. I think the issue is that someone who has been reliable in the past, from the outside, seems to have stopped being reliable in ways that negatively affect others. And she’s telling others that she is calling out/leaving early due to a cold, which in a lot of work environments, isn’t considered serious enough to call in for.*

      So this reads really differently than someone saying, “Hey, I have a chronic disease I’m managing and it’s going to affect me in XYZ ways.”

      However, unfortunately as others have pointed out, sometimes you end up in an environment where people are, bluntly, jerks about that sort of thing.

      * Please, let’s not derail on whether it SHOULD be that way with colds.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        “1) High performers are self-sufficient; 2) high performers just power through stuff”
        This is a business culture thing that, unfortunately, is common in America. I don’t know about other countries. There are many situations where young, energetic employees are expected to work long hours and power through because the Business Goal is Everything. If Beth has been doing this, she’ll have to unlearn it and learn to take care of herself. Even if she hadn’t come down with an illness, no one keeps that up forever and people usually end up looking for less demanding jobs.

    2. AMPG*

      I think this is a good point. Does the manager know about how the team is affected by Beth’s sudden absences and is just refusing to deal with it? Because that would suggest an unhealthy office culture to the point that it’s more understandable why Beth is keeping her health situation under wraps.

  17. Lucille2*

    Beth is carrying an incredible burden. I can’t help but feel like Alison’s scripts are leaning too much towards encouraging Beth to share her health issues with coworkers when she is apparently not comfortable doing so. I can sympathize. I am VERY private about personal & health issues in the workplace. I do agree that OP should have a conversation with Beth so she is aware of the perception among her peers, and I do agree with the latter half of the script about suggesting adjustments to the work that could benefit the entire team. But I don’t believe that has to mean sharing her news with everyone. Coworkers really do not have a right to know Beth’s personal health issues, and she should not feel obligated to share it. Especially if she is still coming to terms with her illness on her own.

    As other commenters have pointed out, there may be company resources available to help Beth take the time she needs to manage her illness. FMLA may be an option, but since it is unpaid, that could be a last resort. Her boss may be willing to adjust her workload, but Beth will need to be willing to adjust as well.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Yes Beth is carrying a large burden, but she’s the only one who can do anything about it.

      Her choices may not be great ones, but they are only hers to make. To all of her coworkers the only thing they know is in the first paragraph. She causes extra work, leaves the team in the lurch, and appears to have a blase’ attitude about it with her senior perks.

      Realistically Beth has to be the one to figure this out. Not the OP, not the project team members, not her boss (that doesn’t know anything about this medical issue), and not her company/HR (that doesn’t know anything about this medical issue).

      1. Lil Fidget*

        It is tough to be OP in this situation, because you can see the train bearing down on Beth – her coworkers are already grumbling and complaining, and in a well-run company it will soon become noticeable to the higher-ups – she may miss out on career opportunities and even be fired. But I agree, Beth is the one who has to take the steps, there’s not that much the OP can do. Even if they try to keep down the coworker’s grumbling, it’s not likely to be very effective if they’re perceiving that their own workload is being negatively impacted and Beth doesn’t seem to care.

        1. Slartibartfast*

          This. You can tell Beth there is a train coming, but it’s on her to get out of the way. If she doesn’t get out of the way, say “I’m sorry”, not “I told you so”.

  18. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

    One of my reports came to me with a reputation for unreliability. Based on some context and side comments, I kinda guessed that he was suffering from some kind of chronic medical issue, so when I got the first report that he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, I pulled him into a conversation in my office. I told him what the complaint was, and said “look, I don’t know what is going on, BUT if there’s a medical issue, here’s how you contact HR and here’s how you get FMLA or an ADA accommodation. I don’t know if you have a medical issue, I don’t really need to know, I’m not asking. I’m just letting you know, since this is your first real job, that this is a thing and that we can make accommodations, but only if we know about them. You’re developing this reputation and this is the responsible way to manage it.”

    But I also know we’re good at accommodations, one of us can’t drive due to a medical issue and even though we pretty much need to be able to drive, we work around him no problem. I also also was his supervisor, not his peer/ peer-less senior.

    Turns out he did have a medical issue and had heard from an internship at a different place that it was a definite disadvantage and that he shouldn’t mention it ever. So instead of getting official accommodation, he was trying to hide it and doing a terrible terrible job. He needed someone to tell him it was okay to use the official channels. (Again though we work in an office that respects those channels.)

    1. Lily Rowan*

      It’s so much easier to this when it’s your report, though. This is a tricky message to share with someone senior to you, even if not above you in the chain of command.

  19. Free Meerkats*

    “I really appreciate you confiding in me about what’s going on. I’m so sorry you’re having a tough time, and the last thing I want to do is add to that in any way! But I’m hoping it will be more useful to you in the long-run to let you know that I’m not sure the way you’re handling it at work right now is getting you the outcome you want. To be totally transparent, because people don’t know that you’re dealing with illness, there’s been a lot of grumbling when you call out near big deadlines. Because you’re telling people it’s a cold, they believe it’s a cold — and there’s been resentment about having to cover for you and work late if it’s just the sniffles. I think people would be much more accommodating and understanding if they knew it was something more serious. Obviously it’s up to you how you handle this, but I wanted to let you know that I think you might get a lot more support and help from people if they understood it’s not just a cold.”

    OMG! Way too many words makes the needed message disappear. How about, “Beth, the way you are handling and hiding this is creating problems. You are giving the impression that you are an unreliable flake and you should probably fix that so your reputation doesn’t tank any further. Have you looked into FMLA leave?”

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I might put it that way to a good friend and peer, but I’m not sure I would be so direct with someone who is senior to me at work. I’m also unclear on how close the OP really is with Beth. There may be a middle ground.

      1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

        It sounds like Beth is senior but not OP’s manager or team lead, for whatever that’s worth.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right, with a peer, maybe. But this could be something like Beth is a very senior VP and the OP is a coordinator or admin. (I know they report to the same boss but that doesn’t necessarily preclude that, depending on team structure and org size.)

        1. Free Meerkats*

          While that could be a reasonable assumption based on the information provided, it’s just as reasonable to assume that they are Llama Wrangler and Senior Llama Wrangler.

          Even if it matched your assumption, that’s still too many words and softening, burying the lede. Beth needs to be told straight up what impression she’s creating. That’s key information she currently doesn’t have.

      3. Batty Twerp*

        It might depend on the relationship OP has with Beth. I’d totally be ok using this script with Jane at work (who is the same level as my manager, but not in my direct line management) because we’ve known each other for years and are on good terms (wouldn’t call us friends or peers though)

  20. Extra Pickles*

    As someone who has an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, I can understand why she might be hiding it. Whether or not the world thinks we shouldn’t have to hide it, it still can be embarrassing and shameful when it affects our work and daily life. Not “looking sick” makes it easy for others to judge you on many things.

    I do think Alison’s advice here is sound, and it would help if the letter write talked to their colleague about how they are being perceived, in an honest and compassionate way. While I don’t advertise that I have RA, I do think it is important that my bosses and people I work with directly know I have it. I have called out before because of symptoms, and have never had a problem. Lupus is very serious and can bring about a host of other problems, so assuming the company has benefits and is reasonable, she should be able to get accommodations.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Also for people who place a lot value in being go-getters at work, who are ambitious career-driven types, it’s a real struggle to accept that you might not be able to do it all right now. It’s a conflict with your sense of identity and who you are as a person if you’re The One Who Gets Things Done and now you … cant. It sucks.

    2. CheeryO*

      I have RA too (or something similar, still haven’t gotten a firm diagnosis). I haven’t disclosed it to anyone, but I also have a lot of flexibility in terms of sick leave. My work is also pretty independent. I would handle things differently if others were depending on me to meet deadlines. Realistically, Beth must know on some level that what she’s doing isn’t okay. I would hate (HATE!) to hear this script from a coworker, but maybe it’s the push she needs to disclose and get the needed accommodations.

      And OP, yeah, I think it’s normal to be embarrassed about a chronic illness. I’m an active, healthy-seeming person, and it’s hard to explain how I can train for marathons and hike mountains but not drive for two hours or sit at my desk all day without pain. Very few people in my life get it, and it’s not something I want to get into with coworkers as long as I can get away with keeping it to myself.

    3. Jessen*

      I’ve unfortunately also ran into folk with the why is that my problem attitude. Basically, that if you have a long-term or chronic illness and you can’t manage the way “normal people” do, you shouldn’t be working because it’s not fair to everyone else that you get “special” accommodations. Or at least you should find a job where you didn’t need accommodations. (They were never very specific on what people with chronic illness were supposed to do, or what jobs those could be, mind.)

  21. It me*

    I think I have been on the unknowing coworker side of this. I had a coworker (I no longer work there but he still does) who constantly missed deadlines, seemed to be slacking off to have a coffee break or organize some sort of office team-building activity, never pulled his weight on projects we were working on together. It frustrated me to no end and I spoke to our boss about it on multiple occasions, who assured me my concerns were valid and he was working with him on his issues. However the issues never stopped after a good year of supposedly working on them with our boss, and honestly were a large part of my frustrations with the company and decision to leave, because I just straight up couldn’t get my work done on time because I had this coworker who was preventing me from meeting my goals and no one seemed to be taking the issue seriously.

    In one of my last conversations with my boss before I left the company he said to me that one thing I needed to work on was putting myself in other people’s shoes and not having such high expectations of people, because I didn’t know that this coworker had been dealing with some very stressful personal issues over the past few months that were affecting his work.

    At first, this made me feel like a total piece of garbage, and I didn’t say anything in response. However after a few days of thinking about it, I started to wonder if it really was a problem with my expectations and apparent lack of empathy for a problem I didn’t know existed (like really, anytime a coworker is continually letting me down, should my first assumption be that maybe they are just stressed out at home and I should cut them some slack?), or if the situation of my coworker’s personal stress was being handled inappropriately. That is totally fine for the coworker to not share that he is dealing with a stressful personal situation, but is it really okay for our boss to just “cover for him” as he deals with this for a year as his coworkers continually get more and more frustrated and stressed with his behaviour? At what point does a manager need to tell the person that maybe some accommodations should be put in place for him, or that he shouldn’t be taking on so much work if he can’t handle it, instead of both of them pretending everything is okay?

    *Note – our workplace was very accommodating for personal stress situations, it was easy to get stress leave or other accommodations if you had support of a doctor, so this is not a situation where my coworker wouldn’t have been able to get said accommodations if he needed them.
    **Other note – I had personal experience with stress leave and accommodations because I had to use them for my own very difficult personal situation a couple years prior, so I was approaching this as a person who had been through traumatic stuff and had to figure out how to deal with work at the same time.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m not impressed with your (former) boss in this.
      Like you say, it’s not really a failure of empathy on your part if you don’t even know there’s anything going on you could feel empathetic about (like, which shoes exactly did your boss expect you to put yourself in? The shoes of missing deadlines and not pulling your weight?). But also, what “high expectations”? It sounds like your expectations were entirely normal for someone you worked closely with and whose work you depended on to get your own done. This was badly handled and sounds very frustrating!

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Your boss should have found a way to suggest to you sooner that there was more going on than just a lazy coworker, and come up with some strategies to help mitigate the impact on your workload. Unfortunately, some people *are* shirkers who will make you do everything, so it’s not like this never happns. If you’re getting paid the same as someone, but you’re going above and beyond and they’re barely floating by, you’re naturally going to feel like you’re not being valued. It’s true that you should always be civil because you don’t know what’s going on, but it sounds like the reality of the situation wasn’t great for you.

    3. serenity*

      At what point does a manager need to tell the person that maybe some accommodations should be put in place for him, or that he shouldn’t be taking on so much work if he can’t handle it, instead of both of them pretending everything is okay?

      Maybe this was happening behind the scenes and you didn’t know about it? And didn’t need to know about it?

      I see two things happening with comments about situations like this:
      1) People are conflating “Person with chronic illness or personal situation disclosed it w/manager” and “Person with chronic illness or personal situation disclosed it w/entire staff”. NOT the same thing, and often people don’t wish to have their personal details shared with all. That’s perfectly ok, as long as they are being frank with their manager.

      2) People w/chronic illnesses who have been mistreated by former colleagues and are understandably skittish about doing so again. In addition to having empathy and understanding for coworkers picking up the slack (which should be on managers to address/fix) let’s have some empathy for chronically ill people who have been burned in the past (many comments upthread attesting to this). Ok?

      1. Temperance*

        Her colleague’s lack of productivity was directly impacting her workload. She couldn’t get things done because Fergus wasn’t doing his job. She elevated to her manager, who kept fobbing her off instead of handling the problem.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yes the manager had many options – could have brought on temp staff, for example, or switched up the assignments, asked another department to take over X task – anything other than just expect an employee to keep doing 1.5 jobs with no acknowledgement.

      2. It me*

        With all due respect I think you are misinterpreting what I mean. I absolutely did not consider it my business why my coworker was not getting his work done. However, this person had disclosed it to our manager, who was also aware that I had some ongoing frustrations with the coworker’s ability to meet deadlines that affected my work. I feel like our manager could have been more proactive about helping my coworker prioritize his workload knowing he had a personal issue, such that the rest of us who relied on him weren’t continually being let down, without ever disclosing to the rest of us that our coworker was dealing with a personal issue. E.g. suggesting that my coworker maybe get started on/ask for help with a huge project with regulatory implications that should have taken him 6 months to do properly, when it was already a month before the deadline and he hadn’t even started it, but continued to insist that he would get it done (spoiler alert, he didn’t, and I had to cobble it together in a week).

      3. It me*

        “Maybe this was happening behind the scenes and you didn’t know about it? And didn’t need to know about it?”

        It is possible something was being done, but it was not enough. I don’t consider it fair to the person with the issue either to allow the coworkers to go on thinking this person is just lazy. That doesn’t mean I want to know his personal issues but there has got to be a way for the supervisor to assist the person with the issue so they don’t continually let down their coworkers.

    4. Rectilinear Propagation*

      I think the problem here is that the issue is being framed in terms of how much work your co-worker can/should be doing instead of setting realistic deadlines and goals given your actual workload. It was your manager’s job to fix that, not leave you struggling while waiting for your co-worker to be at 100%.

      What your co-worker was or wasn’t doing as far as accommodations isn’t actually relevant. It sounds like they at least told your manager, so it doesn’t seem fair to accuse the co-worker of pretending everything is OK. The manager, maybe.

  22. Marlowe*

    I’ve been (and still am to some extent) in a similar situation to Beth’s. I’ve ben diagnosed with a chronic illness, have tried to work through it nevertheless, and have eventually had to take a leave of absence, leaving it to my colleagues to pick up my own burdens. It was an awful situation that I’m still coming back from, and the guilt, the shame, and the responsibilities you carry then are very, very heavy.

    Chronic illnesses are often very alienating, both to yourself and to others. Right now, I imagine Beth’s terror at the thought of disclosing her situation is incredibly high, and the vicious circle she’s stuck in at work must make it even worse by the day. But–in my experience–explaining the fact that there is a serious problem, without necessarily going into specifics, can be liberating. People will probably still talk about her, but she will be honest with them and with herself, and hopefully she will be able to take better care of herself. Encourage her to talk with her manager, OP. She needs to be protected and supported, and her coworkers have to be able to have support of their own when she can’t make a deadline or come into work. Explaining some of it will help everyone in the long run.

    Good luck. It’s rough to be the only one who knows.

  23. Lumos*

    This letter hits really close to home for me. A former coworker of mine just passed away from Lupus. I hope things turn out better for your Beth and I hope she’s able to either disclose it or at least get some support.

  24. Madeleine Matilda*

    OP – Thank you for looking for constructive ways to support Beth and your coworkers. If she is comfortable, perhaps Beth could let your coworkers know that she is dealing with some health issues without going into specific AND that she is making up the time she misses by working on the weekends. From your letter it seems the coworkers are frustrated by Beth’s leave early or sudden absences. They might feel differently knowing Beth was making up the time. Beth might also want to talk with her manager about a more flexible schedule that would help her to better accommodate times she needs to leave work due to her illness.

  25. Rectilinear Propagation*

    …she does make up the time on weekends…and hides her weekend work, so no one realizes how hard she’s working!

    I’d also encourage her to stop hiding her weekend work. Your co-workers would likely be less upset if they knew she intended to make up the time/work lost. It’d be one thing if she was working all 40 hours and was working weekends to make up for low productivity but she’s making up for lost time, not hiding that she needs more than a normal work week to get her work done.

  26. Carol Davison*

    If you friend Terry is a U.S. worker she can apply for accomodation under the Americans with disabilities act. I’d ask to work, to work on weekends, to work 9 and 10 hours days to get 40 hours in even though you need to take sick leave, etc. And Terry should tell people so that they don’t think that she is a gold brick. You should not tell anyone because it’s not your business.

  27. Lumen*

    I’m really glad this wasn’t one of those “I violated the confidence of my coworker by telling everyone about her chronic illness and now she’s mad and HR is involved” letters. Chronic illness or serious illnesses of any kind can make you feel like you don’t have control over your life anymore. You lose privacy. You get hit with stigma.

    So…I’m glad the OP isn’t taking even more control and privacy away from Beth. She needs to be able to make her own decisions about disclosure and how much she is able to push herself, but she need to be able to do that with all the necessary information.

    I hope this gets better, OP (and Beth!)

  28. Faith2014*

    I didn’t read all the other comments, but here’s how I would handle it: Frame it as a perception thing, and that perception can be reality. Since it’s so obviously not reality, she needs to alter the perception other people have. How she does it is up to her, but I’ve found framing it this way (and I’ve been the recipient of such talks as well) really removes the emotion from it.

    By helping her see that it needs attention in a very objective way, you’ll have done a lot of good.

  29. Cyn*

    One thing that called out to me as I read this post and comments is that it looks to me like Beth knows it’s time for her to disclose her condition and get some accommodations. Her telling OP about it may have been her test run to see how it would go if she told more people. She might have weighed her options and chosen OP as the first person (or maybe OP isn’t first, we don’t know, since they’re sworn to secrecy) or Beth might have made an on-the-spot decision to tell OP because OP found Beth crying. Just a guess, since I’m not there of course.

  30. Candy*

    I had a coworker like this. He’d be late, leave early, sometimes not show up to work at all (without calling in or even answering his phone when our manager called to see where he was). Then two days later he’d be at work like nothing happened… until he did it again the next week. This went on for at least half a year.

    It was so frustrating for the rest of us who wouldn’t know if we’d have the proper coverage or if one of us would have to come in early or stay late to cover for him. The worst part though? Was that no one gave us a heads-up that there was something going on with him. We assumed, but no one ever told us for sure.

    If either he or our manager came to the rest of the staff and said something simple but vague like, “Joe’s going through a tough time right now, we’re all going to have to be a bit flexible for the next couple weeks” it would have gone far towards making it a more manageable working environment for the rest of us. Not to mention cutting down on the speculation and gossip. We didn’t need a doctors report or diagnosis, just an acknowledgement that something was going on and management is aware of it and making accommodations.

    As for the OP — without disclosing Beth’s illness, she could still go to her team and they could all agree for everyone to pick up the extra assignments so at least the work is getting done without scrambling, because they all obviously realize Beth can’t handle the work for whatever reason.

  31. GlamNonprofiteer*

    Delurking to say … I’ve been living with and working in spite of #stupidlupus for almost two decades. Beth’s coworker is dealing with the bastard chameleon that is lupus and if you lined 100 of us up with the disease, none of us would have the same presentation, symptoms or lab results. (Which is a nice way of saying that unless you HAVE lupus and have lived with it for a long time with a really, really good medical team, don’t make assumptions.)

    Coworker needs some kind but straightforward talk because their life is full of “well, this lab result says DEAD BY TUESDAY but you don’t look sick so no meds for you” and your helpful-ass relatives sending you quack remedies for their MLM scam (because someone’s brother’s cousin’s friend had lupus and cured it with a salt lamp and some essential oils) BS. I might be bitter.

    Give the straight talk, Beth. Tell your colleague that you get it, that lupus SUCKS and you are sympathetic and that if she can loop everyone in without her doing her impersonation of a healthy person (and sweet pea, I have an OSCAR in this category so she can knock it off), they can make it work.

    Also, tell your coworker to Google “spoon theory”. It’s a great way to explain it to the normies. Bless their hearts.

    Oh, and happy to message with Beth privately about lupus, lupus studies and treatments because after two decades of NOT DYING, I’m pretty good at it.

  32. Poldark Lite*

    I’ve had several severe autoimmune diseases for the past twenty years. I never tried to hide it, but the only things that made work possible were 1. my employers and colleagues, who were very understanding and bent over backwards to accommodate my needs, and 2. I had the same kind of reputation for having a strong work ethic and high-quality output that Beth has. This last is definitely to her advantage.

    I was given the opportunity to lie down in a quiet room at the office whenever I needed to, work from home, etc., as long as my work didn’t suffer. It would have been an absolute disaster if I’d tried to downplay my pain and exhaustion and generally keep everyone in the dark about my illness. Instead, by telling them I’d have lots of good days but some where I’d even need a wheelchair just to function, it took all the pressure off of all of us. Everyone understands sickness and businesses are designed to work around them in most cases, so Beth should open up and I’m positive that her colleagues will rally around her just as mine did me.

  33. BC*

    I can total echo to the situation as myself is a cancer survivor, I gotta get back to work full-time to sustain myself but the same time, the workload can be daunting. Some may think a serious illness is no longer a stigma, but it’s hard to tell how others would perceive it.

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