my coworker is constantly out of the office — and I’m annoyed

A reader writes:

I’m at the end of my rope with a coworker who is constantly out of the office. In any given month, “Jane” will take at least two sick days, leave mid-day several times for some “emergency,” and dramatically leave work while crying at least once. After these incidents, she’ll often work from home a couple days following (sometimes up to a week after the fact) even though it’s an accepted policy at our office to only work from home about twice per month. In the rare instance that she does come in the day after, she’ll mope around the office acting sad and pitiful in the hopes that someone will ask her what is wrong.

She’s more than burned through the five allotted days of sick time we’re given per year, but clearly does not use vacation time to cover the difference, as she has taken multiple week long vacations. As a salaried employee, she’s still being paid while getting away with taking far more sick and personal time than anyone else in the office gets.

I’ve spoken to my manager about this twice, saying I find it incredibly unfair that Jane is given so much lenience, but both times I’ve been told that as long as it is not directly affecting my performance, I should just let it go. However, any time it does have an effect on the rest of the team (which it has, several times this year) Jane gets a warning, and then she continues to behave the exact same way.

I find myself annoyed and angry at her antics every day she pulls something new, and at this point I’m having a hard time enjoying the work I do when I’m stuck on the same team as such an unreliable coworker. I also find it frustrating that I work hard to be a good, dependable employee while she clearly does not, and yet we still get the same performance reviews and compensation at the end of each year.

I’m tired of seeing this happen time and time again, yet our manager is clearly not willing to do anything about it. Is my only option to keep my head down and ignore it or find a new job?

Well, probably.

And that’s understandably frustrating. You’re not wrong to feel this is tremendously unfair, and to resent that your co-worker has such a cavalier attitude toward showing up at work — and more importantly, that your manager doesn’t seem willing to do anything about it.

But it’s also important to realize that you don’t necessarily have all the facts here. You said that Jane is getting the same performance review and salary as you are — but do you really know that? Most people don’t know what kind of feedback their co-workers are getting behind closed doors, let alone what they’re getting paid. (There are some exceptions to that, like government agencies where salaries are publicly available, but those jobs tends to be in the minority.)

It’s also possible that there are other things about Jane’s situation that you don’t know. For example, it’s possible that she’s taking unpaid leave to cover all those absences, which is something you probably wouldn’t know about if it were happening. It’s also possible that she’s dealing with a health condition and her time off is legally protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — which, again, is something that your manager probably wouldn’t share with you out of respect for Jane’s privacy. (FMLA leave would also cover time off to take care of a sick spouse or child — which could explain the mid-day emergency departures and, if she’s dealing with a stressful family situation, perhaps the crying as well.)

Similarly, she might have negotiated more work-from-home time than other people have because of her or her family’s health needs, or another situation that you’re not privy to. Your manager saying you should let it go because it’s not affecting your work is exactly what you’d probably hear if this is indeed what’s going on.

Or maybe not. It’s also possible that Jane is just flagrantly abusing your workplace’s good will, and that your manager is being negligent in letting it go unaddressed.

But this is the kind of thing that can be very difficult to know from where you’re standing. You’re assuming the worst interpretation, and you might be right. But it’s helpful to keep in mind that there are other possible explanations too, and you might not know the whole story.

If you want to increase your odds of figuring out what’s really happening, I’d look at what else you know about your manager. Is she usually good about addressing problems, or does she avoid hard conversations? Is she generally an effective manager or have you seen her being negligent in important ways in the past? Is she normally pretty even-handed when it comes to enforcing company policies, or is she inconsistent? If she’s typically an effective manager who’s both fair and forthright about addressing problems, then the chances are pretty good that there’s more to the situation with Jane than you know — and that it would be more understandable if you had all the information. On the other hand, if you know that your manager wimps out when it comes to addressing problems, it’s safer to assume that might be happening here too.

And frankly, even if something is going on behind-the-scenes that makes Jane’s absences more reasonable, your manager should be thinking more about the optics of the situation. It’s easy to tell people they should mind their own business when something doesn’t affect their work, but people understandably get demoralized when a situation looks the way this one does. Ideally your manager would find something she could say to you that doesn’t violate Jane’s privacy but assures you that Jane has negotiated specific arrangements and isn’t being cavalier about her work.

In any case, while there’s not a ton you can do to change the situation or to demand more information about it, one thing you can do is let your manager know when it’s impacting you or your work. If you’re not getting work you need from Jane in order to move your own projects forward, or if having to cover for her when she’s out means that you don’t have time to meet your own deadlines, or if you’re spending time talking with her clients because she’s always out when they call, those are things you can talk to your boss about. If there’s a work impact from Jane’s absences, let your boss know — don’t feel like you have to cover it all on your own.

Beyond that, though, the situation is really your manager’s to handle. You’ve let her know it’s demoralizing, and from there it’s up to her to decide what to do about it. And on your end, regardless of what’s really going on, it’s probably better for your mental health to assume that there might be more happening than you see — unless it’s proven otherwise.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 549 comments… read them below }

  1. Mel*

    If Jane’s getting warnings, it seems pretty likely that she hasn’t negotiated this time and doesn’t have special circumstances the office is accounting for.

    Or maybe she does. I had a coworker who negotiated extra leniency for debilitating migraines, but still got marked down for using it on her review.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She’s only getting warnings when it affects the rest of the team, which makes it less clear. It’s possible she’s negotiated flexibility as long as she keeps up her work (which would be permissible in some circumstances).

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Yep, I get leniency because I came into my role with an employee health-enforced ‘accommodation’ attached to my file. This doesn’t mean I get away with everything I possibly could under the sun, but that my leaders review my ‘outs’ and occasional lowered productivity in a lense that encompasses major chronic illness. I still have to get my work done, just in a shorter amount of time (more stress for me).

  2. TheaterAssistant*

    This seems like the flip side of those letters where folks write in that their coworker won’t stop tracking their time. As frustrating as it is, OP, to see people “get away” with unprofessional behavior, I’d try to see Jane with compassion, assume she doesn’t want this to be her situation, and focus on what you can do to increase your own performance. I think bringing it up a third time to your manager is a poor choice.

    1. jb*

      Yes, this.

      Even if she is getting the same pay and performance reviews as you, would you switch places with Jane if you could (absences and work from home, plus whatever is making her so upset)?

      I doubt it.

    2. Temperance*

      This is more than a little shamey of OP. It’s more than frustrating to have to deal with someone who has big emotional inappropriate outbursts at work, and then gets to leave randomly and take random days off.

      I don’t think OP should be encouraged to “see Jane with compassion”, nor do I think OP should be discouraged from feeling put out that her own diligence is essentially being punished, since Jane is getting the same comp, raises, and PTO than someone who is competent, shows up, and doesn’t make huge emotional shows at work.

      1. sfigato*

        I’ve had several colleagues in the past who were versions of this coworker – taking tons of time off, leaving early, being emotional wrecks at work…and I would get all irritated, only to later learn that they were suffering from a debilitating disease/dying of aids related illnesses/trying to overcome a serious substance abuse issue while fighting for custody of their child/stuck in an abusive relationship/etc. In other words, they were all dealing with some serious ish. Even the one person who was just sort of a drama queen had their own issues and wasn’t exactly killing it at life, and their slacking came to bite them on the butt in a major way. I’ve learned to be compassionate and not judge.

        1. Emily K*

          Agreed, this one of those situations where the only choice OP has left (having already unsuccessfully tried appealing to the people who could change anything about her situation) is whether she’s going to think the worst of Jane and resent her, or whether she’s going to give Jane the benefit of the doubt and see her with compassion. In my experience when I’m presented with a choice like this, my overall mental health/life satisfaction is improved when I recognize the choice before me for what it is, and elect the first option.

          Of course, there IS a third option – which is to look for another job. Unfortunately, the option she doesn’t have is to make her managers discipline her coworker, or hold coworker accountable, the way she thinks the coworker deserves.

          We’re all entitled to feel put out, but my advice to people who are upset about things they can’t control is not about whether they’re entitled to feel upset or not, but about whether it’s productive and best for their own interest to feel upset or not. It doesn’t mean you can’t feel a certain way in the moment, it means you make a decision to reframe the situation in a more charitable way for your own sake, not the other person’s.

          1. IndoorCat*

            “Unfortunately, the option she doesn’t have is to make her managers discipline her coworker, or hold coworker accountable, the way she thinks the coworker deserves.”

            This is what it comes down to. OP isn’t the manager. Whether this is a case of, “you manager sucks and isn’t going to change” (because Jane really is a drama queen and people are having to cover for her unfairly) or “your manager is dealing with this as fairly as is reasonable and you don’t have all the facts” either way, OP’s manager probably isn’t going to make a different choice since OP has already complained to her.

            Another factor I’ve noticed in these cases is, sometimes, regardless of any time management issues, Jane is still amazing / the best at a specific thing, so from an employer’s perspective, being really, very lenient is worth it. If Jane’s creative teapot designs are always bestsellers while others only do moderately well, or if she only works 20 hours / week sometimes but in those 20 hours she created a program that improved the efficiency of teapot distribution by 25%, or even if she’s just the favorite sales rep of their biggest teapot buyer: Jane stays.

            If Jane is that good (and I’ve known “Janes” who really were that good), and she’s not harassing people or violating health codes, it makes sense to do everything in a manager’s power to get her to stay, even with odd hours and extra work-from-home perks, rather than risk her quitting in order to focus on her personal issues.

            If that’s the case, OP can also take the tactic of trying to improve their own skills in order to get a raise or bonus. If envy of Jane is her motive, maybe let that envy spark a competitive edge so she can get what Jane has– or better.

            1. MyrnaMinkoff*

              Love this. I think that often is the case. And it’s just not any of OP’s business -she’s being busybodying and petty.

        2. Temperance*

          Eh, so I wasn’t going to share this, but my mother is this coworker, so I am more than a little skeptical that every single drama queen has legit issues. She doesn’t have a “debilitating disease”, although she has a mental health issue, it doesn’t excuse acting like a tool at work or hurting others.

          1. Oilpress*

            And that’s the important thing. There can be a reason something occurs, but it doesn’t necessarily excuse it. If someone is unreliable then that’s a pain in the butt for the team. I wouldn’t want to carry them either.

            I would look for a new situation where I didn’t feel taken advantage of.

          2. Haligolightly*

            Are you the LW?

            For the record, mental health issues can be just as debilitating as physical health problems. It’s just not immediately apparent to everyone around them that John is passively suicidal, while Tamara having a broken leg is pretty obvious. Folks tend to be more charitable to those with physical disabilities and at the same time dismiss the struggles of folks with mental health challenges.

        3. Paige*

          Ditto. I’ve been in this situation before, seemingly being the only person left at the office. It was really frustrating. And then just last week, I had some weapons-grade family drama and was super unreliable, out of the office on and off, and only mildly functional now that I’m back – i.e., just the kind of super-flake that used to irritate me. My coworkers have been kind enough to just make sure I’m ok yet otherwise leave me alone, for which I am immensely grateful. I’m thankful I’m salaried, so I can make it up eventually, and that my coworkers are mature enough to keep their thoughts to themselves.

      2. Jadelyn*

        You know, if that’s shamey, then I’m okay with shaming OP on that tbh.

        It really seems that they’re determined to take the worst possible interpretation of their coworker’s behavior (I mean, what OP describes as “[moping] around the office acting sad and pitiful in the hopes that someone will ask her what is wrong” could just, you know, be that the coworker is genuinely struggling emotionally over whatever is causing these upheavals in her life?) and attribute the coworker’s behavior, not to genuine life issues, but to just being a drama queen, but I see no evidence to substantiate that. This whole thing really reeks of fundamental attribution error, to me – where you assume that other people’s behavior is indicative of who they are as a person, while you justify your own behavior based on circumstances that are causing you to behave a certain way in response.

        Honestly, the whole time I was reading the OP’s letter all I could think was, this is someone who’s dealing with Some Shit in their life – whether mental health issues, caregiver responsibility for someone in their family who’s very ill, or something in that vein – and is taking intermittent FMLA and/or has some kind of accommodation set up.

        So just saying “Hey, maybe you should be a little more compassionate and keep in mind that you don’t necessarily know what’s really happening here” isn’t a hard ask, nor is it particularly shamey, and I think it’s something OP needs to hear.

        1. Alienor*

          I think people get hung up on the idea that if someone has a complicated life situation, it’s either overblown and “dramatic,” or they’ve somehow created it for themselves. I mean yes, there are people in the world who enjoy drama and try to manufacture it, but it’s also totally possible that someone could, say, have a sick parent and a difficult ex-spouse and a couple of kids and an unreliable car all at the same time, through no particular fault of their own. I feel like there ought to be a T-shirt that says “just because it seems dramatic doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

          1. AnonHR*

            AND that people handle stress differently.
            It’s best to assume positive intent until you have evidence of the contrary.

            I’m in HR and someone complained about a coworker “never being in the office anymore”. Well she has a job that in many industries would easily be a telecommuting role. More importantly (and not anyone’s business that she does not want to share it with), her husband is dying.

            1. Alienor*

              Yep, there are so many factors that go into these things, from how people handle stress to the fine details of situations that appear similar on the outside. I have a colleague who’s generally regarded as flaky/dramatic, and when people complained about her to me in the past, I pointed out that she was a single parent and they said, “But you’re a single parent and you’re not like that.” Maybe, but I also had one child to to Colleague’s three, I don’t have an ex-spouse so no there were no complicated custody arrangements to deal with, and because I earned more money and had fewer kids, I could afford to pay for things like summer day camps instead of cobbling together childcare from friends and relatives. We may both have fit into the “single parent” bucket, but her experience of being a single parent was different than mine and came across differently, in ways that didn’t always make her look great but weren’t her fault, either.

            2. CM*

              My husband was on chemo for 3 years. That’s a lot of infusion sessions, emergency room visits, surgeries, and home care that I missed work for. I know I affected the work of all my co-workers, but I was also open about the reasons for my absences (and I’m a bit stoic, so no drama). Luckily for me, coworkers are generous lovely people. Also lucky to have a state job and FMLA.

        2. Blerpborp*

          But we don’t know that they are dealing with Some Shit- the crying and moping maybe but she could also be a dramatic person. Both options are possible. I’ve worked with a few chronic no-showers and they weren’t dealing with anything in particular other than not wanting to be at work. So compassion is in order but does not have to be enough for the OP to be pleased with the situation. If the issue is chronic and affecting morale, there should be a better way to handle it.

          1. MrsCHX*

            But OP has no power here and what is the point of driving yourself mad over something you cannot change? She doesn’t know what is going on with Jane and their manager, who likely DOES know, isn’t concerned with Jane’s attendance or performance.

            OP can’t make Jane be a deadbeat because she doesn’t like the flexibility Jane is getting.

        3. puppies*

          Yes totally agree.

          There are few situations where OP could know that Jane is getting the same performance evals and even salary as her. They are making A LOT of assumptions here.
          OP – for your own mental health and well being at work, assume the most generous interpretation of what is going on with Jane (that she is going through something awful) and that she is probably not getting paid for all of her additional time out of the office.

          My 30-year-old husband was diagnosed with cancer this past summer and though I tried to remain professional in the office, I’m sure I didn’t quite behave like myself and was a bit mopey. I also was out of the office a lot with him to go to doctor’s appointments and be there for him during treatment and surgery. I also worked from home a lot. All of this was ok’d by my managers but it wasn’t broadcast to the rest of the office. I tried not to let it affect my work but of course, I wasn’t in the office as much so I just wasn’t as available. I sure hope my coworkers didn’t judge me for this.

          1. a1*

            Except that Jane told the OP about her performance evals and salary, so no assumptions. Scroll down to get the full response from the OP (it’s near the bottom).

        4. MyrnaMinkoff*

          Letters like yours are redeeming my faith in humanity! Because honestly, there could be so much going on with a person to which others – especially judgmental, uncharitable co-workers – aren’t privy.
          This letter’s really got my hackles up :)

      3. Kelly AF*

        Jane is getting the same comp, raises, and PTO

        How could you possibly know this? Is this advice column fanfiction?

        1. Rumbakalao*

          I think it’s silly to assume everyone who is behaving badly has a legitimate reason, and either way the result of the bad behavior is still problematic regardless. Maybe that’s just my worldview which clearly is the unpopular one. Take the writer who got fired because they were jealous of their attractive coworker. People were empathetic to her self-esteem issues but ultimately glad she was fired because “dealing with stuff” or not, she was harassing her coworker and making the workplace uncomfortable for her colleagues- she should not have had any accommodations made for her.

          That’s what I think should be the case here as well. Jane may have some mental issues or might have a sick family member, whatever, but if she’s creating issues for OP and her coworkers’ workloads and just generally getting away with possibly violating time off policies then that isn’t okay either. But since OP isn’t the manager and can’t control any of that (and can’t even say for sure what the details are here), I don’t think it unreasonable to feel for OP and encourage him/her to get another job where they don’t have to deal with all of this.

          1. Lissa*

            I feel like it’s also just…it’s really easy to shake your finger at someone and say “have more empathy!” but it’s a lot harder in reality to look at someone causing you inconvenience and not be irritated. Sometimes no amount of “they’re probably struggling” “I wouldn’t change places with them” “radical empathy!” is going to stop irritation from building up, and when one gets to that state being told by people that if THEY were you THEY would never let an unkind thought about this person cross their mind can be just more fuel to the fire.

            I mean getting into negative spirals is definitely not helpful, and it can be really useful to try to reframe, but that isn’t always possible – I would love if there was a magical way to not be annoyed with people though.

  3. Not a Real Giraffe*

    In the rare instance that she does come in the day after, she’ll mope around the office acting sad and pitiful in the hopes that someone will ask her what is wrong.

    I’m curious if anyone has ever asked Jane what’s wrong, and if so, what her response to the question has been. Depending on her answer, OP might glean some more understanding about the situation. It might not make the impact any less, but OP might be able to better empathize (which I think goes a long way in getting out of a “I’m at the end of my rope with Jane” feeling).

    1. Karen from Finance*

      Yeah, my takeaway from this is that OP means to say that Jane is being overly dramatic, but without knowing if something actually IS going on, this just sounds cold.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah it’s hard because OP doesn’t come across super well here, but we’re not seeing Jane’s actions, and maybe she really is demonstrably acting out in a way that is unnecessary and over the top. I do have some drama llama coworkers but it’s hard to explain.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        As far as I can tell, either something serious is going on with Jane, in which case she probably deserves the benefit of the doubt (whatever it is probably isn’t good, and presumably we would all want generosity from coworkers if the tables were turned), or she is making the entire thing up, in which case it’s really none of OP’s business assuming her workload isn’t unduly affected. There isn’t really a middle ground where Jane gets off on this sort of performance and is doing it just to mess with people/get a few extra hours away from the office.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My experience with absentee-ish coworkers has always been that managers think workloads “aren’t affected” if stuff is getting done, which is loosely true, but sometimes it’s because the coworker is absent so much that we’ve built part of their workload into our own. And I guess it could be argue that it’s then our “normal” workload, but that doesn’t change the fact that we had to take on more because the coworker was doing less. For the same pay.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Which is something the MANAGER needs to be addressing and working out with their staff, who need to be super clear with the manager about what exactly the workload effects are, including shifting things around as well as just stuff not getting done – not the coworker.

      3. Washi*

        And both could be true, Jane could be a dramatic person who is going through something difficult, and so she’s putting the manager in a tough spot by needing accommodations but not handling it well.

        Something I’ll ask myself sometimes is would I want to trade places with Jane and get this flexibility at the expense of my reputation, plus whatever may or may not be going on with her? I would not.

        1. Fish girl*

          This was my first thought. I had a former coworker who was legitimately going through a rough family situation, who we all had a lot of compassion for, but… she also lived and breathed drama (both workplace and otherwise). Like I’m very sorry that your mom is dying, but does that really mean you need to throw a tantrum about the new teapot handle designs? And I’m sorry you need to miss work because you were kicked out of your house, but your husband did catch you cheating on him with a neighbor. And now you refuse to work any overtime because “that’s just more money for that bastard” (aka ex-husband), but he’s the one living with and taking care of the kids, so yeah, you owe him the child support payments.

          It can be real strain to hold both compassion and annoyance in your heart at the same time.

          1. Paige*

            “It can be real strain to hold both compassion and annoyance in your heart at the same time.”

            You’ve summarized wonderfully the philosophical quandary of modern empathy. Thank you.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Needing accommodations but not handling it well.

          This is a wise possibility to keep in mind. Hardship isn’t as automatically ennobling as fiction would have us assume.

        3. Emily S*

          Yeah, it’s usually more likely that the flaky person would give anything to be in a position to be more reliable.

          I’ve had a really rough string of events this fall, where all of these happened in about a 12-week period (not in order):
          – My homeowners insurance threatened to cancel my policy if I didn’t replace my entire roof within 3 weeks, which meant I had to be at home for estimates and then eventually the work.
          – My cat nearly died and had to be hospitalized for several days and then closely monitored at home for another few.
          – I caught the flu.
          – My car broke down on the way into work.
          – My laptop was overheating and shutting down without warning on an almost daily basis and I wasn’t ever in the office to get it fixed/replaced by IT.
          – I drove in one morning and spent 45 minutes in a traffic jam inside of our clusterfudge of a parking garage, which was full, then circled the area for another 30 minutes before discovering that every nearby garage was full for some event happening nearby, before turning to go home, and then was behind on my work all day because of the 90+ minutes I’d lost.
          – The AirBnB guests in my basement blew a fuse and I had to go home to reset it in the middle of the afternoon.
          – My cell phone mysteriously died on a Sunday morning and it took me til Wednesday to get a new phone and til the following Monday to get work email added by IT.
          – Throughout this whole period, because of all the emergency expenses, I became very distracted by financial stress and was having to take time to apply for loans and seek out extra freelance work that I didn’t even have time or energy to really do but needed the money.

          I’m probably even forgetting some things. It was/has been a really rough few months and it got to the point where I was just wondering if the bad news was ever going to stop coming and I’ve been hyper self-conscious about how much I’ve been working from home, how much I’ve struggled to keep up with work and been turning things in late, and how unreliable it’s making me look.

          I can just imagine some coworker who only had the past 3-4 months to go on, calling me a drama queen who always has something going wrong and always needs to be working from home or leaving early.

          I would love to not have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on unexpected emergencies expenses. I would love to have not spent several sleepless nights worried I was losing my beloved pet. I would love to have a partner who could step in to shoulder some of this burden for me so I’m not doing it all on my own and it wouldn’t affect my work as much as being responsible for everything myself.

          (And that’s another thing you might consider. When you live alone, small problems can compound and spiral into bigger problems much more easily, because you don’t have anyone to take up some of the slack when the first small problem pops up. Being out of the office so much made my computer problems worse, which made my productivity and efficiency suffer, which along with needing to take on extra freelance work caused me to pull more all-nighters, which likely caused me to catch the flu, which made me fall further behind on work. A coworker who seems to be “full of drama” might actually just be a single person doing his or her best to manage an entire adult life without the support of a partner or other family member.)

            1. Emily S*

              Thank you! The hits do seem to have stopped coming for now *knock on wood* and I’m planning to use the holiday weekend to do a lot of catch-up and organizing/prioritizing to make sure I’m better positioned to hit the ground running on Monday. For a long time I’ve been feeling like I just need a workday where I can work but everyone else isn’t, so they don’t generate more work for me! Finally getting that opportunity :)

          1. IndoorCat*

            As we say over at Captain Awkward, jedi hugs, if you want them.

            That sounds really rough. I’m sorry. I hope things turn around for you soon.

      4. Full time office job, Full time mom*

        I’m advocating for compassion as well. Sometimes I wonder what people think when they see me coming in late, and leaving early, and doing errands at lunch time. Do they think I’m living a fabulous life of leisure, and I wander in and out of work as I feel like it? I am not. I spend literally my entire life out of the office doing some form of kid-wrangling – getting them to and from school, play dates, swimming lessons, birthday parties, and whatnot; making sure they get enough food and sleep and exercise and the occasional bath; and ideally also making sure they don’t kill each other when I’m trying to take ten minutes to make dinner.

        Anyone who is only seeing my “bum in seat” hours at the office is welcome to trade with me for a day or two and see what else is going on!

        1. Jen RO*

          But it’s not your coworkers’ responsibility to cover for a life choice you’ve made, right? Things happen to everyone, from childcare issues to your cat getting sick, but if you are regularly late and leaving early, I would not be happy to be your coworker regardless of the reason.

          1. Karen from Finance*

            Why, though?

            I get it if it’s affecting your ability to get in touch with the person for work-related issues, if their performance is suffering and you’re picking up the slack, if they are missing meetings with you.

            Otherwise? None of your g-damn business.

            1. Oryx*

              Because as much as we are grownups and something like “fairness” shouldn’t be considered among working adults, it’s not fair that parents often get more flexibility than the rest of us who also have things happening outside of the office that demand our attention and emotional labor.

              1. Nita*

                That’s true. Everyone has lives. I think it’s fair if the people who get less flexibility get compensated in other ways (bigger salary? faster promotion track?). Or they may get less flexibility now, but can look forward to it later if they need it.

              2. Karen from Finance*

                And if you have some sort of special circumstance that requires some extra flexibility, I’m sure your employer would be happy to accomodate you as much as they’re accomodating the parent.

                Fairness doesn’t have to mean being all up on somebody else’s business, it can also mean demanding what you need for yourself. Push yourself up instead of pushing others down.

                Or you know, having some minimum human compassion is nice.

                1. Dance-y Reagan*

                  Frankly, that rarely happens. Getting consideration for eldercare is treated with confusion and disdain. Getting consideration for parenting is a breeze. Obviously, IME.

                2. Roscoe*

                  I’m not sure if you really know how that works. Maybe you have kids and have only been on that side. But I’ve been at MANY jobs where the parents got a level of flexibility not offered to others for just “life” stuff happening. Like sure, if I had an emergency, I could leave early, but it was more of a one off. Otherwise, if I needed to be out for a half day, I’d have to take sick or vacation time. But parents would be able to just say its about their kids and have nothing docked. Hell, I was even at job where once a month we had supposedly mandatory evening work, only to find out that many of the parents were exempt.

                3. Dance-y Reagan*

                  Can’t thread further, but additional comment: my experience without kids is that past employers acted like me needing flexibility for eldercare was weird and unworkable, though they professed to offer flexibility for parents. Parents are saying the exact opposite. This is not a coincidence, people! Crappy jobs are playing both sides to seem flexible when in reality they are just jerks to everyone.

                4. Karen from Finance*

                  Just for the record: I don’t have kids, I don’t want kids, I actually very much dislike kids. But I don’t hold that against the people who do.

                  But I have required special treatment because of illness that I didn’t disclose to everybody, just my supervisor. I have stayed up working from home up until well past after midnight and been 15-20 minutes to work the day after. I’ve witnessed a friend get told off for dozing off during her lunch break when it was her new anxiety medication that was making her drowsy.

                  I understand that life happens, is all.

                5. IndoorCat*

                  “And if you have some sort of special circumstance that requires some extra flexibility, I’m sure your employer would be happy to accomodate you as much as they’re accomodating the parent.”

                  Unfortunately, that’s not true. There are too many managers out there who sympathize with parents (because they are parents themselves), but don’t sympathize with childless people with medical issues, or childless people caregiving for their elderly mom or dad, or childless people struggling with transportation issues because they can’t drive (either due to a disability or car stuff being too expensive on their frankly paltry paycheck).

                  The inconsistency seems to be, as far as I can tell, simply because they lack the imagination to empathize with a situation different from their own. They know they sometimes need flexibility in their schedule because they have kids, but they cannot seem to “expand their circle of empathy” (as Mengzhi says) to understand that this action is as good and as needful for non-parents.

                  Obviously this isn’t true for all bosses or managers. Some really are fair and flexible with everyone equally. But others aren’t.

                6. Karen from Finance*

                  But the solution to some people getting screwed is not that everybody get screwed equally, it’s working towards the goal that no one does.

                  Seriously, the lack of compassion of people in this comment section…

              3. Holly*

                Should single adults or those without children generally have flexibility in the workplace? Of course. But I want to flag that your arguments in this thread are exactly what employers say to justify horrific maternity/paternity leave policies or none at all – I think you can argue for equitable flexibility without devaluing raising a family as labor or work.

                1. Sunshine*

                  The difference is that choosing to have children is not the same as experiencing a temporary personal tragedy, and acting as though other people should be grateful to pickup the slack because parenting is hard is pretty entitled.

              4. JS*

                Ideally an employer would be just as flexible of parents who need to take a sick child to the doctor as they would be a person needing to take their sick pet. Or a person who had any other life emergency. Just because they need to use it more often doesn’t make it “unfair”. It’s there as it’s needed and thats why it goes back to “if its not effecting you, mind your business”. Life isn’t “fair” and unless you try to live the exact same life as someone else it is never going to seem “fair”.

                People are so concerned with “fair” rather than the circumstances around it.

                1. Bleh*

                  Yeah, parenting gets a hard pass that nothing else gets. As a child free person I was always asked to teach night classes because parents in the department needed to be home with kids. And then same parents would schedule parties and non-profit events for orgs with which we all participated in the evening – during my class. They could sure be there for those. Hell, I saw someone write about their kids as justification for their application to full professor. (and have it work) So parents absolutely get this kind of pass – in some places. Flexibility and compassion are one thing. Wearing your parenting status like a coat and managers giving goodies based on that status is another.

            2. Jen RO*

              Well, if there is work for X people times Y hours a day and one person is working less than those 8 hours a day… the tasks assigned to those missing hours have to get done by *someone*. This has been the case in all companies I’ve worked in.

              If I am also free to come in late and leave early for whatever reason (cat is sick or I don’t feel like working anymore or it’s raining), then I see no issue. If someone is allowed to do this strictly because they have children, then it becomes one.

              1. Karen from Finance*

                The person might be picking up their own work, just not in the schedule that you are actually seeing. And a lot of people have tasks that can’t be just assigned to somebody else (which is my case for example).

                1. Jen RO*

                  I think we are talking about two different things. If someone is finishing their tasks successfully, I don’t care if they do it at 6 PM or midnight. But nothing in the comment I was replying to suggests that this is the case – she just says she comes in late and leaves early because kids.

                2. Karen from Finance*

                  Yes, but nothing in the comment suggests they are not able to finish their tasks in the time they have, or that they are unloading their work onto someone else, either.

                  It might be the case, but it might not.

              2. Not Today*

                No one is allowed to do these things strictly because they have children. Childfree folks sometimes resent parents, when they should simply take those same flexibilities to meet their own needs. It does not have to be us against them. Also, parents sometimes have multiple things going on, not just child issues. Ever heard of the sandwich generation? Folks with kids often have pets too.

                1. Sunshine*

                  Plenty of bosses are flexible with parents and not with other people though. That’s the whole point. It’s not simply a matter of taking the same flexibilities.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Exactly this.

            I don’t have kids or pets for a reason. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to give up my free time to cover for you taking care of yours.

            1. Holly*

              I agree on an individual level, but that is also the argument against maternity leave/paternity leave policies. As a society, we do have to pitch in sometimes for others with families. I would instead argue for more flexibility for everyone in the workplace.

              1. Blerpborp*

                Not quite. My understanding is that the way more generous parental leave works in other countries is that the businesses actually hire temps (paid for at least in part by the government) to do the parent’s job while they are out; it isn’t a situation where the other employees just take on their new parent coworker’s duties for a whole year.

                1. Holly*

                  That’s not how parental leave works in my office for sure – their cases are reassigned to the other attorneys.

                2. restingbutchface*

                  I’m in the UK and a year’s maternity leave is common (not always on full pay). Basically, maternity leave is a legal right and the law doesn’t interfere with how the employer manages the workload. We seem to manage okay and I can’t imagine living anywhere with no maternity leave (I don’t have kids and never will have).

                3. MsSolo*

                  Yeah, in most countries that allow 6 months to a year of parental leave common practice is to hire someone to cover for them. It’s too long to not, and the company can claim your parental pay (statutory maternity pay in the UK) back from the government so they can afford to hire someone to cover, and it’s up to them if they want to be more generous than the government amount. It’s very common for people to apply to be parental cover as a way into businesses they want to work for – there’s always a chance the person you’re covering for won’t come back, and if they do you’ve got a year’s worth of capital at the organisation that encourages them to find somewhere else for you. More info about how it works in the UK linked in my username!

                  (my sister is in the awkward position of starting a new job and finding out she was pregnant just after, so she doesn’t qualify for SMP. It’s a small business, so she’s had to wait and see what they’re willing to pay on the understanding that (a) it earns them social capital to cover her maternity anyway, since they’re a local business with a brand that makes a big deal of being a more ethical employer than Global Capitalist Competitors and (b) it makes it much more likely she’ll come back!)

                4. Natatat*

                  Yes, this is correct, at least in Canada and at least in places I’ve worked. If someone goes on parental leave, a contract position is posted that only lasts for the period of the leave. Co-workers don’t cover the gap left by the person on leave…a person is specifically hired to cover that leave.

              2. Sunshine*

                Parental leave is at the cost to the company. Having to constantly do extra work because a colleague chose to have children is a cost to the employee.

            2. MattKnifeNinja*

              I’ve left jobs over having to cover parents’ life style choices.

              Taking your kid to dialysis, no problem. Not a peep from me. Leaving early, and having me cover (no extra compensation) for Biff and Biffy’s travel hockey, gymnastics, swim meets, soccer, vocal music lesson, etc etc etc…no. That’s their live style choice, and I get nothing out of it.

              Don’t get me start on holidays off. Childfree have no family (kids), so no reason to get any holidays off.

              Anyhoo, OP as much as the above issues grinds my gears, your problem is a not your circus not your monkeys.

              Who knows why your coworker is “getting away with murder”. Higher up’s bullet proof niece, rock star with some serious issues-but her work is valued that much, or major mayhem going on in her life and HR is accommodating.

              As long as her job isn’t becoming your job too, I’d be offering my angst and aggravation for a better spin on the Karma Wheel. I see no upside bring the behaviors up again.

            3. Not Today*

              This is so harsh. Without kids or pets, you could fall seriously ill, or someone you love could, especially aging parents. Your home could be destroyed in a fire or other natural disaster. Don’t give up a damn thing you don’t want to, but life has a way of throwing curve balls, and what goes around comes around. Hopefully folks would not be so lacking in compassion when things happen to you and you still need to work for a living.

          3. sfigato*

            Just want to point out that the life choice of having children is literally why the human race continues to exist.

                1. Sunshine*

                  Not wanting to give up all your free time to support other people’s children is not ‘bashing people who have kids’.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              We’re not going to die out any time soon. And so what if we did? None of us will be here to witness it.

              1. Courageous cat*

                This isn’t a great argument – none of us will be here to witness a lot of environmental changes (the more drastic effects of global warming for one), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be environmentally conscious.

            2. Full time office job, Full time mom*

              Yes, thank you. I wasn’t going to get into that part, but there’s definitely more than individual choice at play here.

              In any case, I’m going to repeat that I’m not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m just advocating for some compassion for the OP’s Jane, rather than assuming that she’s deliberately working the system. A little understanding that sometimes the circumstances of people’s lives mean that they can’t always meet all their expectations, would go a long way.

            3. Archaeopteryx*

              True, the trend of people referring to having kids as “your life choice” or emphasizing “the kids you *decided* to have” gets increasingly dismissive of, you know, one of the building blocks of society. I understand that people who don’t want to have children are sick of the societal assumption that they should, but the cure to that annoyance is not to turn around and start acting like becoming a parent is some extravagant indulgence.

              Not weighing in on this specific issue of leaving early at work, as that’s very context-dependent. But all the side eye towards people (let’s be honest, mostly toward women) who “decide” to have kids and work a full time job also ignores a lot of economic realities.

              I don’t have kids myself, just a peeve.

              1. Matilda Jefferies*

                This is a huge peeve of mine as well. These kids that we “decide” to have are going to be our future doctors, teachers, plumbers, electricians. They’re going to be the people who provide you with clean drinking water, and who take care of you when you get sick.

                Sure, it’s often a choice for each individual to have children or not, but on a societal level, it would be a pretty big problem if everybody suddenly “decided” not to have children.

              2. a1*

                Saying something* is a choice does not mean it is viewed as an “extravagant indulgence” – just that it is a choice. It also doesn’t mean the choice was easy – sometimes it’s a choice between a rock and a hard place, but it’s still a choice. I’m not sure why you’re reading so much into this.

                *This applies to any situation, not just with having kids.

              3. Sunshine*

                It is a ‘life choice’ though. One that includes hardships. I’m fully supportive of proper parental leave, welfare, benefits, and 1000 other things my taxes pay for in terms of parental benefits. I’m also 1000% supportive, if say, my colleague’s child is sick and it means I have to work a bit harder that day. What I object to is the idea that a child’s party / extra curricular is more important, on a regular basis, than my family time / doctor’s apps / days off.

            4. MCMonkeyBean*

              But the earth is super overpopulated right now so I’m not sure that’s your winning argument.

          4. Observer*

            But there is very little evidence that the OP is covering for CW. In fact, the OP specifically states that they have brought it TWICE to the manager when it explicitly id not affecting their work.

            Compassion doesn’t necessarily obligate someone to cover either for OP or FTOJFTM, but it DOES help them to get their noses out of other people’s business and back into joint.

          5. Emily S*

            Your employer pays each of you according to the value they think you bring to the company and according to what they think you value. In most office environments, people don’t provide exactly the same value per minute and work the exact same number of minutes per week for the exact same pay rate.

            Someone might be regularly late and leaving early, and they might be paid less or given less desirable assignments or promoted less often as a result. Or, they might be paid the same amount because your employer thinks that they bring the same value in their shorter hours that you do in your longer ones.

            If you disagree with how your employer is assessing the relative value of you and one of your coworkers, then your beef should be with your employer, not with your coworker. It’s not about “covering for their life choices.” Nobody’s lives are directly comparable and frequently office jobs don’t directly compare either (it’s much less common in an office environment to have multiple people with the exact same job description than in a manufacturing, service, or retail environment).

            Rather, every employee is bringing some kind of value to the company, the employer tells them what number they think that value is, and the employee can accept that number or try to get a better number somewhere else.

            Your employer hired this person, they have these circumstances in their life, and your employer is paying them a certain rate. Your coworker can’t change their circumstances, so how would you propose they remedy the situation? I assume you wouldn’t say the coworker has the onus of asking management to fire them or pay them less. If you agree that such a decision should originate from management and that it’s completely reasonable for people not to ask to be fired or paid less, then place your frustration and blame on the party with decision-making power–your employer–not the coworker.

            1. Sleepyinseattle*

              Thank you!! If there is one thing I have no patience for as a boss it’s any employee arguing about “but so and so gets such and such”. You want that? Negotiate for it. Fair does not always equal the same. I have superstars on my team sho do get more leeway because they are that valuable. And I have people with challenging life circumstances who get more leeway even though they are temporarily underperforming. Each one negotiated specifically. When someone complains I pretty much tell them worry about yourself. I’m fine if you want to argue you deserve something extra for covering for so and so. Cool. I’m happy to negotiate that too.

          6. lobsterp0t*

            Individually, no, but systems of work should be built around people – not vice versa. Implicitly that means that the system of work (in which we all have a role to play) should allow for flexibility where it is needed and desired.

            When that becomes problematic is where “need” and “desire” is distributed unequally.

            I don’t think it’s particularly fair, either, for parents to face undue barriers to workplace equality – e.g. gender/maternity pay gaps – “as a result of a choice they made”.

          7. Wednesday Hump Day*

            Sounds like she’s one of those Martyr Mums to which all I can say is “you made a life choice, no one forced you, same as I made a life choice not to have kids, we all gott alive with our choices and take personal responsibility for them, not farm out responsibility to others who have nothing to do with your choices”.

          8. MyrnaMinkoff*

            “But it’s not your coworkers’ responsibility to cover for a life choice you’ve made, right? Things happen to everyone, from childcare issues to your cat getting sick, but if you are regularly late and leaving early, I would not be happy to be your coworker regardless of the reason.”

            Ugh, Jen RO – WHY DO YOU CARE? That’s so beyond petty.

        2. behindbj*

          That is so incredibly not the same thing. Your decision to have kids and work full time should not visit itself on me. The activities you describe sound like normal kid-raising activities – not something that should receive extra-special consideration. And, if I am reading your post correctly, you are arriving late, leaving early, and taking extra time at lunch – with no mention of making of the time later on in the day. You say the rest of your day is spent dealing with your kids and not making up the time.

          So, no – you don’t get the extra compassion from me because you expect it just because you had kids.

        3. Temperance*

          Here’s the thing: as your colleague, it’s not on me to care that you spend a lot of time being a mommy when you aren’t at work. If I have to spend more time working to cover you, I’m going to get annoyed, and telling me that you never get a break because of your kids is *not* going to endear you to me, because what you’re actually saying here is “my life is more important than yours”.

        4. Full time office job, Full time mom*

          What if I added that both my kids have special needs, including anxiety disorders that make it hard for them to get out the door in the morning? That was not my choice.

          What if I added that I am a single parent who is working full time because it’s the only way to pay the bills and put food on the table? Neither of those were choices, and nor are my own challenges with depression and anxiety.

          What if I added that I don’t have a car (also not by choice – can’t afford one), and that public transit in my city is notoriously unreliable? That is definitely not my choice.

          These are the circumstances of my life. Some of them are the result of choices that I have made, some are not. Either way, I have worked with my boss to mitigate the impact on my coworkers. I’m not asking for EXTRA compassion, for myself or the OP’s coworker, but I think it couldn’t hurt most people to have SOME compassion. It sounds like Jane’s life is pretty difficult right now, and my guess is she knows she’s letting people down at work. I bet she’d be more than happy to change her situation if she could.

            1. Full time office job, Full time mom*

              And I never said it did. I’m actually saying that pretty much everybody should be allowed a certain amount of flexibility to deal with life stuff outside of work. Some people need more than others, some people need it at different times than others. But everybody is going to need some kind of flexibility at some point, and I wish that more workplaces were more amenable to that idea.

              1. Jen RO*

                The problem appears when people who need flexibility more than others expect the same benefits as those others. I don’t have anything against someone arriving at 10 and leaving at 5, but they should be paid less/have to take more PTO than someone who arrives at 9 and leaves at 6.

                1. Aitch Arr*

                  If the employees are exempt, it doesn’t matter if one person is butt-in-seat from 10-5 and the other from 9-6.

                  Is the work getting done to the manager’s satisfaction? If so, that’s that, no PTO need be deducted.

                2. Mary*

                  That depends entirely on what the job is. Should the person who regularly stays til 7:30 so they miss the traffic therefore get paid more than the 9-6pm person? What if 10-5pm person takes no breaks, never checks Facebook (or Ask A Manager!) during work times, organises herself ruthlessly and doesn’t hang out in the kitchen for a ten-minute chat about the new Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?

                  Bums on seats isn’t the only way to measure productivity. For some jobs, the hours you work are directly related to the money you earn. For other jobs they’re not.

            2. Amtelope*

              Everyone who needs flexibility because of health problems or caregiver responsibilities should get it. Sometimes the needs of people who are dealing with health problems or caregiving do impact their coworkers. That’s a problem for their coworkers, and in an ideal world, management would respond by hiring extra staff or redistributing workloads. But people do have different needs, and some people do actually need more flexibility or time out of the office than others.

              I am troubled by the attitude I’m seeing in this thread that if you are disabled, or chronically ill, or a caregiver, you shouldn’t work unless you can work the same hours with the same reliability as abled, healthy coworkers with no caregiving responsibilities. That’s often not possible. And a reasonable business provides reasonable accommodations for their employees’ needs, even if that means offering more flexibility in scheduling, just as a reasonable business orders adaptive equipment for a disabled employee who needs it without ordering it for any employee who wants it.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I agree that everyone who needs flexibility should have it.

                But the people who don’t need it shouldn’t be expected to pick up the slack.

                1. Lunita*

                  @detective Amy Santiago- in your comment above, you do say that the other commenter’s life challenges do not make her any more worthy of time off or flexibility than anyone else.

                  In theory people should be treated the same, and it’s very tricky to get into what’s worthy or not, but do I really agree that my desire to take off early to go to the movies or something is as worthy of flexibility as a coworker who is dealing with family issues or an unreliable car or transportation because they can’t afford anything else? Nope, I don’t think that’s as worthy and people should strive to be more compassionate and empathetic.

              2. Jen RO*

                This is my take:
                – Good flexibility: Jane can have a standing desk. Jane can work 10 to 6 instead of 9 to 5. Jane can take a 2-hour break to go a doctor’s appointment and come in 2 hours early tomorrow. Jane can WFH when she has a cold. Jane is reliable and can be counted on to work late if needed, so Jane can manage her own schedule.
                – Bad flexibility: Jane can work 10 to 5 forever because she has kids. Jane always tries to shift her tasks onto others, but she can still manage her own schedule.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  Good flexibility: the department requires employees to work late two nights a week, on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Isabel has a PTA meeting one Wednesday a month, so she doesn’t work late on Wednesday the week of her PTA meeting.

                  Bad flexibility: Isabel never works late on any Wednesdays because of that one PTA meeting a month. Lucinda would like to take an astronomy/ballroom dancing/crewel work class that meets on Wednesdays, but cannot because she’s assigned to work late every Wednesday.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Hey, I had an elderly dog for whom I got up at 3:45 in the morning to start a weird medication schedule, for two years. I didn’t ask for extra time to sleep in.

            If you don’t have time to work full-time, don’t expect a full-time paycheck. If you need a full-time paycheck, expect to put in 40 hours. Pick one.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I just want to say thank you for being so open about your struggles. I’m frankly appalled at the coldness and lack of compassion that so many people in this thread are (apparently proudly) displaying, as if saying “suck it up, buttercup” to someone makes you better than if you showed a little bit of bloody compassion for them.

            Honestly, the whole mentality in this thread is really reminding me of the misdirected “But why are they getting paid more than me? They shouldn’t get that much!” response people have to pay disparities, when the better response should be “But why am I getting paid less than them? I should be paid better!” As someone else in this thread said, push for *better* for yourself, not for *worse* for other people. Good lord.

            1. just my opinion*

              Same here. That attitude more than a little disturbing, especially since it would likely be different if they had not said they were struggling because of their kids (and gave another reason like an ill parent, etc). Everyone deserves compassion. Even parents.

              1. Temperance*

                Okay literally no one suggested that parents should not receive “compassion”, just that they should not get extra privileges like a shortened schedule etc. over childless folks. That’s not exactly an anti-parent statement unless you actually believe that your individual choice to have a child is somehow doing society a favor.

                1. Wednesday Hump Day*

                  Exactly. The parents at my job can just leave whenever without any hassles from managament, take half days, work from home no questions asked etc, and still get paid for the time when they leave work early.

                  The childfree/less people in the office aren’t allowed to work from home and get questioned if they need to leave early for something. And the office is making us take 1 week annual leave over Xmas, on top of the 1 week paid by them because all the directors have kids so Xmas they have Xmas holiday plans.

                  Great I need to waste a week annual leave as I’m not going away during the most expensive time of year and don’t really want to go anywhere as everywhere will be swarming with families. Offered to work that week as clients need work done anyway, but nope, got told we all need to take annual leave. Then when I do actually have a holiday I’ll probably need to take part of it unpaid thanks to this stupidity.

              1. Anon for this 2*

                It goes both ways. I don’t have kids and don’t want kids and have been denied time off for that reason. It would have been lovely if my coworker had been more compassionate and given up his flex schedule so I could have taken time off under FMLA to be with my mother who was dying of cancer. He also refused to show some empathy when she had a double mastectomy during the first time she had cancer, resulting in me having to work both during her surgery and recovery.

                He’s someone who expects others to have empathy and compassion for him because he’s a divorced single father and dealing with his aging father. He just doesn’t have it in him to show empathy and compassion for others when they need him to step up.

                Needless to say, there’s not much left for him in my goodwill bank at work.

        5. AnotherAlison*

          This is the type of comment that gives working moms a bad reputation around the office. Your situation is just regular life. Even when my kids were little, I didn’t come in late, I didn’t leave early, and I worked through lunch as needed. You’re free to do what you want off-hours and at work, but if you were blowing off your work schedule for playdates, well, that’s not your coworkers’ problem. Sometimes kids of working moms can’t have as many playdates as kids of SAHMs, and sometimes moms have to work late.

          1. Kristine*

            Being a single parent to two special needs children and relying solely on public transportation is “just regular life”? I don’t know…to me, that sounds like a special circumstance that deserves a little more leniency, but I’m also not a parent. I just know that if I had a coworker in that situation I would be happy to cover for them.

            1. President Porpoise*

              Well, look, I think it really depends on her boss’s expectations. If her boss expects her to be in the office on time and not leave early – then yes, single mom or no, special needs or no, Full Time Office Job/Mom is behaving badly and I would be peeved as a coworker. Why, you may ask, if it doesn’t affect me? It might. I might end up being the person who can never get home on time because I have to deal with last second urgent customers or issues. I might feel pressure (rightly or wrongly) to cover for my absentee coworker with my boss or customers when she skips out. I may even be tasked by my boss to keep an eye on my coworker’s comings and goings. All of these things have happened to me before when I’ve worked with coworkers who are lax about their timekeeping. If you want some flexibility – negotiate it with your boss and communicate it to your coworkers, and don’t expect to see the same perks.

              To Full time Office Job/Mom, it sucks that you’ve got outside issues pressuring you, and there’s no easy way to fix any of that, but if you have made commitments to your employer, you need to keep them. They are paying you for that time, so if you are using it contrary to their needs, you are stealing their money, full stop.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I really, sincerely hope that the people around you give you exactly as much compassion and understanding as you’re extending to people here.

                1. President Porpoise*

                  Me too – because I negotiate my needs with my bosses and communicate with my coworkers, as I advocate doing in the comment above. And time theft is wrong. Firmly believing in those things and expecting others to abide by the same standards isn’t a bad or uncompassionate thing.

                2. Lissa*

                  You hope someone’s entire life is a particular way because of a 2 paragraph comment on an Internet forum? Really and sincerely? That seems a bit…much, especially since your implication is that “as much compassion and understanding” is none or little, so you want someone to be treated badly due to how you perceive their internet comment?

              2. Mary*

                Everything you’ve listed here is stuff that the *boss* should be doing or not doing, but the person you’re resenting is the mom.

                If your boss expects you to cover for or check up in your co-worker, you’ve got a *boss* problem, not a co-worker problem.

                1. President Porpoise*

                  Oh believe me, I know that that boss sucked for making me track coworkers hours – but he worked two states away, in a different time zone, and I guess didn’t want to open an ethics investigation to track her computer use until he was reasonably sure of the result.

                  The other things, though? No, that’s on the coworker. If she’s dropping tasks that have to be done before close of business because she needs to drop her kid off at his weekly karate lesson, and hasn’t briefed the boss about it because she knows she wouldn’t get permission, and asks me to cover for her… well, I’m going to be rightly annoyed, because I frankly don’t want to have to go have a conversation with my boss about how coworker isn’t at work when she says she is.

              3. Lunita*

                It’s not as black and white as you make it sound. I disagree with your smug assertion that just because you’ve been able to figure everything out so nicely, everyone else should too. Life is not black and white.

                You also leave out how productive people are when they are working-plenty if people come in and “work” for 8 hours yet are not as productive as others, yet you claim any amount of time a person is gone is “time theft.”

                And let’s put the responsibility for one’s own actions you insist others bear back on you-if you wrongly assume that you need to cover for them, that is in no way the fault of the coworker.

              4. PVR*

                I’m pretty sure she said she had made arrangements with her employer for the flexibility she needs so that would suggest she is not stealing their money nor failing on her commitments to her employer.

            2. Blerpborp*

              You would be fine to cover for them on a daily basis for no extra pay? I don’t know if I buy it. While I think some people are being extra callous because she obviously has a situation that is especially hard and I know I would also be understanding if occasionally her life circumstances meant more work for me. But if it is daily that she isn’t working a full day then I can’t help it, I would get frustrated with that situation if I am also not being allowed similar flexibility.

          2. MrsCHX*

            I’m amazed that with kids you’ve never needed to leave work early. Your kids never got sick (I can’t count the number of ‘your kid threw up and you have 60 minutes to pick them up’ calls over the years) or hurt or had a doctor’s or dentist appointment?

            Working through lunch isn’t a badge of honor, you know. And if someone is hourly/non-exempt they CAN’T work through lunch.

            1. WillowSunstar*

              You can work through lunch if hourly and super busy. You just can’t be honest about it. It is frequently done where I work. After all, it is your lunch break and you should technically be able to do as you wish.

              1. MrsCHX*

                Well the FLSA does not allow you to. It’s illegal. You can’t “do as you wish” as a non-exempt employee covered by FLSA.

                Says the HR Manager who just unfortunately had to investigate and handle a case of a department creating comp-time situations that’s against company policy and illegal under FLSA.

          3. AnotherAlison*

            Just fyi – I actually typed my comment before she came back and said she had special needs kids, etc. (She re posted while I was typing and I didn’t refresh). I’m not a complete jerk with no compassion. Her original post said she wondered what people thought she was doing outside work & that it wasn’t a life of leisure – but the examples of her busy life were birthday parties and play dates. She said birthday parties, not caring for special needs children.

            Generally, though, people ask what we think their coworkers might think of XYZ, and then someone says “I think X” and people jump in and say, “You are wrong to think that.” I think it’s important to realize while the crowd is going to say, “Of course we have compassion–take all the flexibility you need,” someone at your office is hiding behind their desk biting their lip while they put in OT and you don’t. Some jobs are 50 hr/week jobs, and someone is thinking that if you need a reduced schedule go find a job like that (the royal you, not this commenter specifically) because you aren’t pulling your weight and they are also exhausted and would like more time at home.

            I have a coworker who does have a 32 hr schedule, and if I need her to travel for a project, I am going to say, “You don’t need to say yes.” Everyone has a kid’s event they want to go to, or a friends’ graduation, or whatever. I agree we all need flexibility, but my issue is that for most people in my career field that also needs to go the other way. Sometimes you need to travel to Bumflunk, WY at a moments’ notice or work Saturday to meet a deadline.

            Also, FWIW, I travel every week to work remotely, am the “breadwinner,” & am not a single parent. I make different choices and sacrificed more of my personal life. I expect to get some blowback for my parenting choices, too. It’s fine. But I don’t ask what people think and then tell them their honest opinions are wrong.

            1. Rumbakalao*

              Well put. I think that’s what’s really bugging me about this thread- everyone is getting dumped on for their opinions if they aren’t 100% positive. That’s part of what a comment section is for. Harsh or “compassionate” these opinions aren’t wrong.

        6. Cat Fan*

          Are you putting in as much work as others when you work fewer hours to take care of the children you decided to have?

          1. Jadelyn*

            This mentality is literally what makes the world a worse place for working mothers and makes it so common for women with children to basically be shoved out of the public sphere and into the domestic sphere. I am genuinely appalled.

            I just want to post that one headline, “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people,” all over this particular thread. There’s a lot of people who seem to have forgotten that concept.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              You can care about other people without crossing the line of doing so at your own expense.

              I can have compassion for whatever Jane is dealing with while also asserting a boundary of not working late to get her work done to the detriment of my physical or mental health.

              1. just my opinion*

                But is that what’s going on in the letter? I thought Jane’s attendance issues didn’t effect OP’s performance/work, which I assume includes her working hours

            2. Temperance*

              No, comments like the one saying “I’m a mother, I deserve to work fewer hours than you” are what makes the situation contentious.

              I don’t want to spend extra time working because someone else is a parent.

          2. Can't Think of a Name*

            I don’t get why people assume that if someone has kids it’s a “choice.” Certainly, it sometimes is, but a lot of times people have kids when they didn’t plan to. Unplanned pregnancies happen, and not everyone gets abortions, whether it be lack of access, moral objections, abusive home situations, etc. Or maybe someone has kids or a dependent because another relative is unable to take care of their child (because of incarceration, courts, disability, etc.).

            There are many paths to parenthood, and not all of them start out voluntary. It just bothers me when people assume someone “decided” to have kids, without knowing if that’s actually true (and for the record, I don’t have kids)

              1. Can't Think of a Name*

                Perhaps, but again, not everyone necessarily chooses parenthood. At the risk of going off-topic, one of the many ways domestic abuse can manifest is controlling a partner’s reproductive choices, including tampering with birth control/refusing to allow a partner to get an abortion. Or maybe someone lives in a state with a lot of restricted access to abortions/abortion clinics. Or again, maybe it was an unplanned pregnancy, and the person has religious or moral objections to abortion. Sure, you could give the child up for adoption, but that is an incredibly difficult and painful choice that not everyone can make (and I say all this as someone who is adopted, and whose parents DID actively choose to become parents.)

                Or, as I also mentioned, maybe someone’s child or sibling was put in prison, had the courts remove their child, etc., so it fell on a relative to raise the kid. I wouldn’t exactly call that a choice.

                I’m gonna leave it there though before this starts to derail the conversation

                1. PhyllisB*

                  Yep. My mother(in her eighties) and I ended up with my oldest daughter’s children after DHS got involved. (She had a meth habit.) First time they let them go back home because she seemed to have cleaned up her act. The second time we were told, “Either you take these kids or they are going to foster care.” So we took them. (BTW, daughter is doing great now, and she’s planning to resume full-time care next school year.)
                  A co-worker of mine had a sister with eight children. Her husband murdered her and he went to prison. No one else to step in so she even though she had four children of her own, she took them in. So parenting isn’t always a “choice.”

                2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

                  It is a choice–because nothing says you have to raise said child. If brother John is in prison, his child can go to foster care. You may choose to aise said child but that’s your choice.

              2. Can't Think of a Name*

                Not sure if my other reply posted, so I’m just going to say – becoming a parent/caretaker isn’t as simple as your statement makes it out to be.

                Ok, off the soapbox before this train derails

            1. anon for this*

              Alleluia! When someone flings “well parenthood is a choice!” at me I do want to give them a bit of a dressing-down — especially if they support restrictive laws that really render it a non-choice…

              1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

                Removed. It’s not okay to be that judgy about people’s reproductive choices here.

        7. xms967*

          Yeah, I’m definitely “entertained” by the idea that the only measure of work done, apparently, is butt-in-seat hours. Either you’re there 8 hours a day or you get docked, the end! Never mind if you do extra work at home, are exempt, or actually did all the work in one go, thus reducing the amount of BIS time required! Nope, if someone else is suffering, you should suffer too.

          Ah, capitalism… what a blight.

          1. Mary*

            Just wondering whether all these people are also cool with the person who regularly stays til 7:30pm getting paid more than them!

      5. Rainy*

        I was once accused of being overly dramatic by another grad student in my program (I heard about this through the grapevine, as she was telling everyone that I clearly had some kind of mental illness because I was so sad all the time and should probably be kicked out of my program).

        My husband had died a few months before.

        1. puppies*

          Omg I’m so sorry! This is such a good example of why people should have some f*ing compassion and not just assume the worst. You never know what someone else is going through.

    2. Ali G*

      Me too! OP, ask yourself this: if you asked her if she was OK and she said something to you like: “Thanks for asking – I’m dealing with some personal problems that have really messed with me lately. And I’m exhausted because I had to leave in a rush yesterday and I was up until midnight finishing my TPS report.” wouldn’t that change your view?
      Or she might give you a snarky answer and then you can go full on BEC with her (don’t do that).

      1. dramalama*

        I think a lot of people are coming at this from a personal perspective, because from my own I did a full-body cringe at the thought of asking. I still haven’t forgotten the student known mainly as “crying girl” in my Grad program who would weep silently as she worked in the shared office, and if you asked her what was wrong she’d tell you… For hours… And again, the next time she saw you. When people stopped asking her because they just couldn’t afford the lost time when they were there to work, she started going farther afield, and starting crying in stairwells and near the entrance.

        For people in the comments asking whatever happened to simple human compassion, this is pretty much what killed mine.

        1. Courageous cat*

          Yeah, that’s fairly inappropriate and asking for a LOT of emotional labor from people who aren’t close enough to give it.

    3. Nita*

      Wondering the same thing! I hope OP does ask – the information may give them more context for knowing how to respond to the situation. I’m getting the sense that something serious is going on with Jane, not that she’s abusing her flexibility… but maybe this impression is wrong and she’s just flaky and dramatic. No way to know besides asking.

      I do feel for OP if they’re picking up the slack for Jane. It really doesn’t seem fair from their point of view. The thing is, are other employees being given flexibility when they need it? If the answer is yes, OP should keep in mind that they may end up needing a flex schedule too one day – and will be able to ask for it. If the boss is playing favorites, this is a pretty toxic situation and OP might want to look for a better job.

      1. valentine*

        Whatever it is, only her manager needs to know she has an emergency and she shouldn’t be crying or moping.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Yes, definitely she should put on her Robot Face and never display any human emotion or signs of stress at work. This is a workplace, not group therapy! /sarcasm

          Honestly, this whole thread is so depressing. People have lives outside of work, and sometimes those lives are complicated, and sometimes those complications have an impact on the way they behave in the workplace. It happens to literally everyone at some point in their lives, and I can’t believe the lack of compassion and empathy I’m seeing from some of the people here.

          1. Temperance*

            She should keep her shit together at work instead of loudly wailing and sighing about how it’s not fair how she has to work when she feels sick. That’s … not a high bar.

            1. pancakes*

              You’ve added your own narrative that isn’t in the letter. How are you not seeing the irony in adding “wailing” that simply isn’t there?

              1. puppies*

                Yes, Temperance the LW also didn’t say any of this. You are clearly adding your own narrative here.

                1. pancakes*

                  No, there’s no “wailing” in the update. There’s “sulking,” which obviously isn’t synonymous with “wailing.” I don’t understand why you’d think anyone would be open to the idea that those are the same thing.

  4. Karen from Finance*

    I agree that there might be something going on that OP doesn’t know about, and isn’t really their business if it did. It’s only OP’s problem as long as it directly affects their work in a concrete way.

  5. MK*

    Eh, to me this reads more like someone with mental health problems or a burnt-out primary care-giver than a slacker. Not that these things are mutually exclusive, she may have genuine problems and milking them for time off, but people who are well do not burst into tears on a regular basis.

    1. Xarcady*

      Except for some people I know who can cry on a whim.

      I understand exactly what MK is saying–I’ve been in that position myself, where if one more teeny tiny thing were to go wrong, I’d burst into tears–tears that any reasonable bystander would think were totally out of proportion to what went wrong. I was a caregiver for an elderly relative and then my father fell and broke his hip and there were a few months there where I barely held it together. And there’s a good chance that’s what going on with the OP’s coworker.

      But I have known a few people who cried when they made any mistake, because the tears would get them sympathy, and frequently someone else would fix the mistake for them, while they got no consequences for making the mistake.

      It’s hard to tell from the letter which this is.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Hell, it’s hard to tell *in person* which it is. Fundamental attribution error is very definitely A Thing, and without being literally inside someone’s head you can almost never say with absolute certainty whether they’re crying to manipulate, or crying because they hit their last straw point all of a sudden.

        As someone once said to me, people rarely actually go from 0-60 emotionally. If it looks like they just went from 0-60 in a blink, they were probably at 59 for awhile, they just weren’t showing it.

      2. lobsterp0t*

        Definitely, at my work I have A Crier and a person who isn’t generally super emotive but once upon a time cried at a 1-1 meeting… I know what this is usually about and deal with it pretty differently, but if I didn’t know them fairly well in a work-sense, I might find that confusing/unclear to navigate.

    2. Emily S*

      Yes, this and the other big flag is that management has brushed off complaints except when someone else’s workload is affected and then Jane gets a warning.

      That gives me the strong impression that Jane has an arrangement with management worked out for some extenuating circumstance, otherwise it would be more likely that we would have heard, “Management warns her but she never changes,” or, “Management doesn’t care and never warns her,” or “Management sometimes seems to care and other times doesn’t, so we’re never sure if complaining will lead to anything.”

      The fact that management has a clear pattern of intervening when necessary to protect other employees’ workloads, and not intervening when not necessary to protect other employees’ workloads, strongly suggests to me that there is a reason they’ve chosen to intervene and not intervene according to that logic.

  6. Atomic Cowgirl*

    ” It’s also possible that she’s dealing with a health condition and her time off is legally protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — which, again, is something that your manager probably wouldn’t share with you out of respect for Jane’s privacy. ” Or this employee is dealing with a condition covered by ADA. Either way, sharing an employee’s health issue with another person is not only a violation of privacy but a violation of HIPAA. If this employee was indeed being protected by ADA or FMLA. It’s even possible that the manager doesn’t know the details of any condition, if one exists. At my company, for instance, if an employee has an issue for which they are being put on medical leave or have an ADA covered condition, HR does not in most cases disclose to the manager what the condition is, they communicate the required accommodations and the manager is expected to comply. We are very cautious about avoiding HIPAA laws.

    1. atalanta0jess*

      I thought HIPAA didn’t apply to employers? HHS says it doesn’t (link attached to my name). I’m definitely not an expert about employment matters though, I mostly know about how HIPAA applies to health care providers.

        1. Atomic Cowgirl*

          I guess that’s why I assumed – we are privately insured both for medical benefits and for worker’s comp. Our employee leave files are kept entirely separate from their performance information, and the company policy is not to disclose anything of a medical nature.

          Even so, I would consider a medical or mental health issue of anyone who worked for me as confidential and private, in the same way I consider any coaching or disciplinary action. I am frequently asked by staff why certain people “never get in trouble” for various offenses. My standard response is that any actions taken by management in regards to attendance or performance are kept confidential, and that I’m sure they would appreciate that if they were the individual who was being disciplined. That said, I know how hard it is when you have a disruptive employee who is either protected or who is in a disciplinary procedure that you’re not allowed to share with people. It’s frustrating for the team on the ground and for the manager too.It surprises me how many people just assume that no one has noticed the behavior or is somehow choosing not to do anything about it.

      1. Antilles*

        Correct – HIPAA primarily applies to people in the medical profession plus related fields like claims administration. The majority of companies and industries are actually NOT covered by HIPAA laws and regulations and therefore aren’t subject to those non-disclosure requirements (though there might be state/local privacy laws which do matter).
        That said, there are a LOT of companies who either don’t actually understand how HIPAA works and/or just use it as a convenient rationale for why they won’t disclose other employees’ health information – basically you’re just citing ‘HIPAA says no’ as an easy way to shut nosy people up and not have to provide a long detailed explanation.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Possibly pedantic point: HIPAA privacy standards don’t apply to employers; they apply to health care providers. So while there are very good reasons (like basic respect for employee’s privacy) to avoid disclosing illnesses, violating HIPAA privacy standards is not one of them.

    3. Lexie*

      With the exception of the observed crying and overt moping, this sounds a lot like my significant other when his disease isn’t well-controlled. He has bipolar 2, and I’m certain that his colleagues must have legitimate frustrations with him when he’s up or down—both the depression and the hypomania produce similar levels of checking out at his job. He does what he must to get by in those phases, but his coping mechanisms aren’t great. I’m sure he has periods of underperforming.

      If the colleague has something like BP2, she may not even know it herself—my significant other’s diagnosis came in his late 30s. Before that, he thought he was fine and everyone else was infuriatingly unreasonable when he was up/down. Alternately, the colleague may know what’s going on and the manager may be accommodating under ADA.

      I’d say the OP’s choices are to try to let it go or to look for another job. But to also know that there’s no guarantee that she won’t encounter other colleagues with issues elsewhere.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is not how HIPAA works unless you are a medical provider that provides services to your own employees.

      The bigger legal constraint is that in most states, personnel information that could relate to sensitive issues is supposed to be kept confidential and private. Regardless, OP does not need to know why Jane has the set up she has. OP sounds like Jane has become their BEC, and is in turn building up a lot of resentment without knowing the full picture. Ultimately they have to let this go—their reaction isn’t helping them or anyone else.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      Yes, this could have been my last coworker. Even though everyone knew she had a condition covered by the ADA, it was one of those conditions where if you have it, you automatically get blamed for it, so then my other coworkers had no compassion for her. Also there were possible racial issues at play and though I tried to be nice to this coworker, I was the only one.

      My coworker wound up getting let go, ostensibly because she never could be at work when she said she was going to be there.

  7. CatCat*

    Gosh, I hope my colleagues would react with kindness and compassion if I ever have to deal with something very stressful in my life where signs up my distress are manifesting at work.

    1. Bostonian*

      You just don’t know… I was shocked at how unsympathetically people on my team reacted when one of my coworkers was going through something major and stressful enough that it affected her work. This was someone with years of excellent performance and a solid track record, too. Luckily, my boss had her back, which made me feel a lot better.

      1. Bad Janet*

        Yes – having a serious illness or life crisis will show you very quickly who you can count on and who you can’t. And you will always be surprised at where people in your life fall.

      2. LadyL*

        Is your workplace the kind of place where there’s tons of pressure? I find that while some people are just not very empathetic, a lot of people lose their natural inclination towards empathy when they feel like they don’t have the space for kindness (I.e. the extra workload is going to be put on them and they can already tell they’re going to get in trouble if it’s not done as perfectly as it always is)

      3. Lilivati*

        It’s a sad truth that in most office places (at least in the US), people with physical ailments or common life stressors (like an illness or death in the family) are treated with empathy and compassion, and people with mental ailments are… well, treated like the OP’s letter reads here. It doesn’t encourage people struggling with mental health to be open with their colleagues about why they are struggling.

        What really sank this home for me was when a senior employee who has struggled with cancer for many years aired his views on the laziness and weak character of people with depression. There’s just zero empathy available. You learn to hide it instead of explain it- except to those people who absolutely need to know.

        1. OhNo*

          The situation you describe is unfortunate, but sadly true very often. I’m physically disabled, and I’ve noticed it in the difference between how my boss treats my sick time days versus one of my coworkers who struggles with mental health issues. Whether our advance requests are granted, how our work is allocated while gone, and how we’re treated when we get back all differs, and the root cause seems to be the source of our issues.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        The thing is, the fact that one person is going through a rough patch doesn’t mean nobody else is. Lack of sympathy might also be that they have their own stuff going on and are just as tired and burned out, but don’t want to air it.

        And at some point, if you’re employed somewhere, it’s because they need somebody to fill the position. There will be a tipping point beyond which it’s simply asking too much of one’s coworkers.

        1. LQ*

          This is so important. I don’t want to get the point where the only compassion we show is for those who are performative about their need for compassion. I have a coworker who is going through a horrible thing, unless you know, you have no idea in her day to day interactions. I’m sure I have others who are going through things who I don’t know. I want to treat everyone with compassion, but yeah, crying in front of me isn’t going to make me be extra nice because I’m niced out. I’m either already showing compassion or you’ve hit my high water mark of showing it. Which I’m kind of ok with. I don’t want super special compassion to go to the criers but none to the not criers.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was thinking the same thing – that, so far, I was able to get through several major difficult times/losses in my life with a smile plastered on my face and a “I’m doing GREAT, how about you?” whenever a coworker asked how I was doing. But I cannot guarantee the same ironclad robotic demeanor with all of my future losses and hard times going forward! Thankfully, my current teammates are decent and compassionate people. Maybe I should stay at my current job for that reason alone.

    3. AK*

      I think a lot of how I might react in OP’s position would relate to how Jane addressed it with the team. If she was flippant about others having to cover for her then I might have less patience, but if she at least made an attempt to say “I know this is tough for you but thanks for helping out” it would make it a lot easier to be supportive.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yes, to be completely fair, and I were Jane, and I had visibly run out of the office crying (more than once?!) I would probably choose to have SOME sort of conversation with my team, even if it were only, “most of you have probably noticed that I’m going through kind of a hard time right now, I really appreciate a little extra patience this month” or whatever. Not required, of course, but recommended.

    4. The Original K.*

      One of my friend’s colleagues had similar attendance issues to Jane’s (not quite as bad because the company had better PTO and leave policies than it sounds like the OP’s company does). It was because her only sibling had died so she was now dealing with everything related to her elderly parents’ care on her own AND she was getting a divorce. Life was just stomping on her at that point. (The company knew about her sibling’s death but only my friend and the woman’s boss knew about the elder care issues and the divorce.)

    5. Temperance*

      I think this is a bit unfair to OP. Jane sounds absolutely exhausting to deal with. She’s having big emotional scenes and subjecting her colleagues to them, in addition to everythign else they’re doing for her.

      1. CatCat*

        “in addition to everythign else they’re doing for her.”

        I agree that she sounds exhausting. But what on earth is the “everything else they’re doing for her” that the colleagues are doing?

        There’s not an ounce of kindness in OP’s letter. That is fair. Because it’s not there.

      2. Mediamaven*

        I agree. I think if there is a major situation happening in Jane’s life there needs to be some level of transparency to her coworkers even if it isn’t precise details. Otherwise, they have a right to feel agitated about it.

        1. pancakes*

          I’m stunned anyone would feel entitled to “some level of transparency” about a coworker’s personal difficulties. Good grief, why? Jane isn’t obliged to pretend like her coworkers are her closest friends. She isn’t obliged to ask whether they’re feeling “agitated” themselves, either. Nor are they obliged to feel agitated by a coworker experiencing some difficulty and not gratifying their curiosity about it.

          1. Karyn*

            If you’re upsetting the workplace on a semi-regular basis with obvious and tearful exits, it might be a good idea to have small chats with a few of your co-workers when things aren’t so heated. Jane doesn’t have to bare her soul, but saying *something* might be wise. “I’m sorry about the other day–I’ve been having a really rough patch lately, and I appreciate everyone’s patience.”

    6. Aurora Borealis*

      I think it depends on how long the rough patch lasts. I had an employee who’s spouse died suddenly and everyone was more than compassionate and stepped up to cover his duties and responsibilities while he dealt with his loss. One year later, though, and people have their own lives and stresses in life to contend with. His emotional health is very important, but there comes a time when you must tend to your own first.

    7. Cacwgrl*

      But at what point does kindness and compassion become doing your job for you and being allowed to feel resentment? We dealt with that in our small group. One specialist had an issue that slowly became obvious to us and we covered like heck for her. Did everything we could to ease her workload and also protect ourselves because how she was behaving was inappropriate, especially in our outward facing positions. We dealt with all visitors, all meetings, handled everything to honestly avoid tarnishing our reputation and address customer needs. After months of it getting so bad she was literally contributing nothing while crying at her desk about how her SO left her because of her refusal to address the issues while we did her job offer her when we had all already been overtasked to start with, it caused serious resentment. It was a relief when she finally left for good because she could not deal with her issues. We could hire someone else and get back on track. It wasn’t our job to baby her and she nearly drug all of us down with her. After the fact, we found out our supervisor hated her anyways and never bothered to notice the issues despite us telling her about all the extra work we each were taking on. So that sucked and it stung again when she refused to give any of us any credit for it on our evaluations,

    8. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I would be kind and compassionate within reason, but it’s one of those situations where you have to put on your own oxygen mask first.

      1. Aurora Borealis*

        I like how you put that. And sometimes it ends up just enabling, not helping your co-worker.

    9. OP #4*

      Well, fair or not, it helps if people know what’s going on. I understand that people really value their privacy around medical stuff but it’s just a fact that it’s hard to be sympathetic if co-workers don’t know that a life crisis is going on and that you’re not just playing the system.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        And honestly – simply saying “I’m dealing with a personal medical situation” or “There’s a family situation pulling me away” is generic while still addressing the issue.

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          Which is reasonable in a workplace where it is safe to say those things, but sometimes you are penalized for such things. Also, when you are dealing with health or family matters, you can start to feel paranoid that you have exhausted all goodwill and that no one understands, especially when the issues are ongoing. I’m not saying it’s ok, it’s an effect of ongoing serious life or health issues.

          1. (NOT) OP #4*

            But is the co-worker not already suffering consequences of the (theoretical) decision not to tell? It’s a trade-off is all I’m saying. You can’t expect total privacy and total compassion.

      2. pancakes*

        I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. (I’m in remission now). I didn’t want or need sympathy from coworkers who weren’t close friends or even friends at all. What I wanted most of all was for cancer to not take up any more of my life than it absolutely had to, which is one of the major reasons I didn’t tell them. I’ve never regretted it. Reading these comments, I’m more grateful than ever that I heeded advice I read elsewhere not to tell them. If they think I’m “playing the system” when, for example, I leave for a lengthy doctor appointment I’ve informed only my boss about, that’s their problem.

        1. (NOT) OP #4*

          I mean I get it. I do. But you (general) have to accept it’s a trade off. You can have privacy or you can have compassion. Generally, you’re not going to get an equal measure of both.

          1. PVR*

            I don’t agree. If (general) you assume there is a valid issue going on in someone’s life and that accommodations have been made with management (which I think there is ample evidence to assume) then the whys really don’t matter. Is it going to change anything to hear “medical issue”, “personal issue”, “intermitant FMLA”, “ADA” or what have you as the reasoning. And maybe a generic “serious medical issue” is enough for you personally to hear but not detailed enough for Fergus. Maybe Fergus wants to know if it is cancer and not migraines before he decides whether or not these absences are worthy. Ultimately, this comes down to a management issue, whether Jane is having legitimate personal issues that require employer accommodations or behaving as a drama queen. The question becomes whether or not you trust management to deal with the issue appropriately.

          2. pancakes*

            I don’t think that’s at all true. I also think the compassion of people who can only manage to squeeze it out of themselves if and when their curiosity is satisfied is so minimal and has so little to do with actual compassion that it isn’t worth seeking.

    10. lobsterp0t*

      Yep, definitely this. I think if the “something stressful” and the attending behaviours are the exception to your relative norm, it would tend to garner more empathy – but not always.

      I’m glad I don’t work in a dog eat dog kind of environment.

    11. DarlaMushrooms*

      Last year I developed a debilitating auto-immune disease. I had a horrible flare-up around Christmas and I missed a lot of work and worked from home quite a bit. My co-workers were totally unsympathetic. I’d drag myself into work and sit there isolated because no one would talk to me. I wasn’t getting paid for my leave, since I used up all my sick time, and I was utterly broke, very sick, in a lot of pain, scared because I didn’t yet know what was wrong with me, worried about losing my job (spoiler alert: I did), and unable to celebrate the holidays with my family. It was terrible for my mental health, too.

  8. flow*

    employees are so obsessed with their coworkers’ schedules. you don’t know everything going on. I see coworkers leave earlier and come in later than I do, and it doesn’t mean anything other than I need to do my job which isn’t to track their time out of the office.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yes but to be fair, if you are constrained by the pressure of never being allowed to be late yourself, if your manager is tough on absences, if vacation days are low – it creates what someone called a scarcity mindset, where it seems like there’s not enough to go around, and other people are taking things that you need or want. The only times I’ve ever felt like a buttinski are when I was dissatisfied with the flexibility I was getting, which made me jealous of others who seemed to be getting it.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        I think this might be right on the money as to why OP wrote this. I noticed that she led with “we get five sick days”, which is… not a lot of sick days for an office job. She then proceeds to talk about the fact that Jane isn’t dipping into her vacation time. Which is… not how sick time and vacation time are supposed to work. You’re supposed to get enough sick days so that you’re not having to use vacation time for this sort of thing. OP also mentions the number of days per month they are allowed to telework, and while I don’t know if there’s an unwritten standard for this, two days per month doesn’t sound very generous.

        My guess is that the real problem is that rank and file workers don’t have enough PTO and are sniping at the people who find a way to make it work rather than coming together and demanding more.

        1. :-)*

          “we get five sick days”, which is… not a lot of sick days for an office job.
          Right? That’s something that stood out to me as well.

      2. flow*

        from what’s in the letter, the only thing stopping OP from pulling a Jane is a good sense of professionalism. if others are getting benefits that you are denied when you ask for them then I can see caring, but it sounds like OP just wants to see Jane punished for what OP believes is unprofessional behavior.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          True, although I also think OP wouldn’t care so much about Jane’s flexible schedule if OP was also allowed to work from home whenever they wanted too. They also probably wouldn’t notice as much.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Scarcity mindset is a good take. Also openness–if Jane sketches an outline of what she’s dealing with, how it’s affecting her interactions with other people, and a rough timeline, that lands differently than “It’s none of your business why I need you to cover the Jackson Report. Again.”

        There’s also the reverse that Jane doesn’t know what problems her coworkers are dealing with–sometimes people with level 10 problems are able to mostly compensate, while people with level 2 problems flail.

      4. Cat Fan*

        That and the regular crying bouts in the office and running out afterward. Many of us have known people with valid issues, but also people who are good at faking things, especially if it a regular occurrence. It is difficult not to be cynical sometimes.

    2. Temperance*

      I disagree with this wholeheartedly. I think it’s silly to suggest that there’s something wrong with OP and her colleagues for being annoyed with both the irrational, weird behavior and the special treatment that Jane is getting. I’ve seen several comments that basically tell OP and her non-Jane colleagues that they need to work harder.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’d say that depends on whether or not I’m expected to cover your duties when you aren’t there. If I am, then it is most certainly my business if I’m constantly juggling two workloads.

    4. xms967*

      Pretty much. The only time someone else’s comings and goings should be affecting me is if it affects my workload, at which point I bring up that particular point to my boss. “With Jane gone all the time, I have to do [things] as well as [stuff]. Where should my priorities lie? What should the deadlines be, given my additional workload?”

      Hell, I’m having this now in a way, since my boss has become director of a wider team, and so he isn’t as available as he was before. This is awkward when he’s the only one who can do a thing. I don’t know, or care, how he spends his time elsewhere, alls I care about is that he’s currently a chokepoint, and we need to resolve that.

    5. Blerpborp*

      I mostly don’t care about my coworker’s hours- we have private offices and as long as you cover your desk shift and any other obligations you have in a given day, I’m cool. But when it is very obvious that one person is abusing the freedom and flexibility we have, well, it’s a little annoying and hard to ignore. It’s kind of similar to Jane (although no crying or mopeing) in that occasionally it affects me or another employee but usually it doesn’t so it’s not very actionable (I don’t think any of us have complained to our boss for that reason.) But basically, I do my best to just ignore it but it feels very “I just like having a 3 day weekend and half days for fun” and less “I have something seriously wrong going on” but who knows? I know it’s not my business but I do think it’s human nature to be irritated when you feel like someone is getting away with something.

  9. K*

    While I can see how this would be really frustrating, I’d encourage LW to show a bit of compassion; don’t automatically assume the worst in other’s actions.

    Separately, as someone struggling with depression, I’d say there’s a good chance you don’t know the whole store. I’ve made accommodations with my manager and manage my work stream in a way that works for me, and ensures my work gets done. I’d hate to think my coworkers felt negatively about me because they didn’t know all the details.

  10. Bostonian*

    Yeah, the most you can really do is point out to your boss when her absences/unpredictable attendance affect your work. It can certainly be frustrating and demoralizing for Jane to not be as dependable, but please keep in mind that she could be going through something really serious/traumatic in her personal life.

  11. Fed Up*

    I know the feeling. My coworker is employed at 32 hours a week because YEARS ago she wanted more flexibility while her children were younger. She rarely puts in that many hours. She comes in late, leaves early, has phone calls/meetings about her son’s school stuff. She talks to her kids on the phone multiple times a day for extended periods to make sure they know where the Advil is, or to see if they need gum or to tell them not to play video games (they’re teenagers). She spent 3 days ‘working from home’ last week because her teenage son was sick. I know for a fact multiple departments needed her for time sensitive things. She’s frequently rude and complains she doesn’t have time to do her work yet doesn’t put the hours in she should. Her work is put onto me. She’s salary and I’m hourly and it’s really horrible to experience such inconsistency in that situation.
    We’re in HR so I know what the situation is, she does this because her manager is spineless and scared of her. I can’t wait to move out of this department and into a different one. This situation is going to change and it drives me up the wall.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      It sounds like your coworker is being a good mom to her kids.

      I work for a company that encourages parents to do things like go to their kids’ parent teacher meetings and school plays and such, and which allows using PTO or teleworking in cases like having a sick kid. I’m glad that I do. In fact, stuff like this makes me realize I should probably stick around. Because god forbid I end up at a company where every time I field a call from my latchkey kid someone is taking note of it.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        It sounds like Fed Up is taking note because they are picking up the slack.

        “She’s frequently rude and complains she doesn’t have time to do her work yet doesn’t put the hours in she should. Her work is put onto me. “

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah for me this is the line around workplace flexibility. I love that some modern jobs offer it, but … not if it means I end up doing two people’s jobs. Companies need to take the initiative to hire temps or contractors or whatever to provide coverage, not ask the remaining people to shoulder more load indefinitely, because that is going to lead to this kind of picky infighting.

          I’ve also experienced situations where other people’s flexibility resulted directly in LESS flexibility for me, as I was now the one anchoring the office (for no more pay), so my work from home requests weren’t being approved and even my vacation schedule was affected. Companies need to manage better to ensure that doesn’t happen if they don’t want to see morale sink.

          1. Fed Up*

            And I am paid far less and only have 40 hours a week to get my tasks done. I’m being given more and more of her tasks and I’m told it’s because she’s busy and they’re giving me more responsibility. All the while I’m being paid tens of thousands less and have a more to do than her.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        What Fed Up is describing sounds a whole lot more excessive than simply fielding a call. Multiple lengthy calls per day, frequent absences and leaving the work for someone else are all things that sound like the co-worker is taking advantage of the flexibility she’s given.

        I have a co-worker with kids who are going through some stuff right now, and besides that, they’re young and they have emergencies. She is frequently out taking care of their stuff. But I never feel like I have to pick up her slack because of it, and I think therein lies the difference. I offer to take some things on, and she has raised the flag when stuff gets to be too much, but I never feel burdened by it. If I did, I’m sure I would feel the same way about her as Fed Up feels about her co-worker.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          My coworkers in the middle of Little Kid Hell also seem to put in extra hours in the evening to catch up, which is fine with me.

        2. Recent Anon Lurker*

          I think that is the key to being flexible. Your coworker doesn’t make you do more because of her life choices, but FedUp’s coworker seems to think that she can do whatever because she has negotiated more flexibility.
          Separately, I had two of those helicoptered kids as college roommates, and both were horrendous roommates. Somehow one of them made it to 20 before learning how to do laundry (because I made her learn because I wasn’t about to do her laundry for her; which apparently her first two college roommates did to keep the peace………….). If you don’t teach kids how to “adult” as tweens and teens they aren’t going to magically know how to do it when they hit the dorm room.

      3. Bigintodogs*

        There’s being a good parent while managing your work, and then there’s talking to your teenage children multiple times a day on the phone for an extended amount of time. It sounds like this is affecting her work, which, while she might be an awesome mom and going to all her kids’ plays and concerts and games, her time away from work is putting more pressure on her coworkers, so that’s not really fair.

      4. Anon for today*

        Being a good mom doesn’t mean you get to be a bad coworker, especially if you’re being given flexibility to attend to parenting .

        1. Lance*

          Yeah, it’s great that she’s paying a lot of attention to her kids… but she also has a responsibility to pay the appropriate amount of attention (and care) to her work.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          If this started “years” ago, her kids don’t need that much attention any more. Or if they do, she needs to officially work (and get paid for). She shouldn’t get both.

      5. Temperance*

        Do you honestly think that the commenter should care that her coworker is being a “good mom to her kids” when it means that the colleague, who is lower-ranking and likely lower compensated, is now picking up the slack? I certainly wouldn’t care about that at all. Why punish people for being childless?

        1. Fed Up*

          Honestly nothing annoys me more than the allowances parents are given that are not given to me. I don’t want children but my life has value. I can’t come in late if my dog is sick without making up that time or using PTO. I can’t work from home if I need to. My coworker frequently isn’t even online when she’s ‘working from home’.

      6. Fed Up*

        She is not using PTO, I’m in HR so I know. I am choosing to not have children, does that mean I should be given less flexibility and be forced to take on a coworkers responsibilities despite being paid much less and working more hours? I’m so tired of excuses being made for parents and childless people being guilt tripped because their lives are somehow less meaningful.

        1. Trek*

          I’m not sure what your plan is for moving into another position but I do suggest you ask for a raise. Point out all the extra work you have done and the fact that she is salary and you are hourly. Ask for a raise and not a small one.

          At the very least I do suggest you start pushing back on the extra work. Or at least move it to the bottom of priority list. Do your work first and focus on that and if you can’t finish Y then let your boss know so they can finish it or so they are aware that it is not done.

          1. Fed Up*

            I actually don’t want to stay in HR. I’m waiting for the right internal position to come up. There are a lot of other paths within my company.
            I discovered two days ago that my position profile is literally identical to that of my salaried coworkers but I’m hourly and I’m paid approx $20k less. I actually submitted a question so perhaps I’ll get some advice? I know our department’s MO though, they will make crappy excuses and deny me and my bitterness will mutate. I’m just biding my time until I can move departments and be completely and utterly ignorant to how truly messed up company politics are. Ignorance was bliss.

            1. valentine*

              Why stay with a company that treats you like this? You could end up with another shirker and, once salaried, be expected to put in all the hours necessary to do both of your jobs.

              1. Fed Up*

                I live in a rural area with very few decent companies and this is a great company to work for. Things will be better when I transition into another department. I have to bitterly wait this one out.

        2. Recent Anon Lurker*

          I have to echo Trek. If the bosses don’t see the problems they can’t fix them. Don’t be rude or refuse to do it – just make them aware of all your priorities and ask them what they think can slide (as Allison has said in other columns).

        3. Wednesday Hump Day*

          In the same boat and totally agree. Having a kid isn’t a free pass to shirk work and let coworkers pick up the slack.

      7. Observer*

        No it doesn’t. She’s not being a good mom, and she’s not being a good coworker. Teens don’t generally need that kind of micro-managing.

        What makes this Fed Up’s business is that the person is rude and complains about her workload even though she doesn’t put the hours in and essentially dumps her work on Fed Up. That’s a very different issue.

      8. Properlike*

        A coworker who is spending so much of her time parenting teenagers who are (it sounds like) self-sufficient to me does *not* sound like a “good mom.” That sounds like someone who didn’t put in enough work on the front end getting her kids self-sufficient so that she doesn’t have to take so much time out of her day telling them where to find gum.

        The point here being that I *shouldn’t* have experience with your parenting choices as part of my own work day, unless I am your personal assistant and it’s part of my job description to take care of these. There’s a sanctimony inherent in the “good mom” trope — both that any female who doesn’t take every opportunity to miss work for her kids is a “not good mom” (hello? are there no fathers in this scenario?), and that being a “good mom” means you can’t possibly work a full-time job that requires you to be there on-site at regular times. In fact, it’s this very assumption that’s why we have a “Mommy Track” in the first place, where women can’t advance because it’s assumed this is how women are.

        This is why we don’t bring our family situations into the office unless absolutely necessary. And I say this as the parent of two single-digit kids who know not to play video games and where the gum is without me having to be on the phone with them most of the day.

      9. Jennifer Thneed*

        Disagree. She’s making sure they know where the Advil is. She’s checking to see if they “need” gum. She’s telling *teenagers* not to play video games. This isn’t good parenting, this is refusing to let them grow up and solve problems themselves.

        1. Recent Anon Lurker*

          I couldn’t agree more with you. This isn’t parenting, unless there is some disability that the outside group is unaware of. The things described above are crippling to a teenager – and create the helicoptered to helplessness young adults I lived with twice in college.

        2. Karyn*

          You don’t want teenagers to play video games? Take the controllers to work with you. Telling them not to ain’t gonna do it.

      10. Wednesday Hump Day*

        Then that flexibility should be extended to all staff, not just parents, or do you think childfree/less people should pick up the slack?

      11. Former Employee*

        Perhaps she should take those 32 additional hours and use them to be an even better mom to her kids.

      12. Sunshine*

        Did you miss – “She’s frequently rude and complains she doesn’t have time to do her work yet doesn’t put the hours in she should. Her work is put onto me.”

    2. Fed Up*

      I also want to add, I have brought these frustrations up with my manager and she is aware that it’s an issue. My flaky coworker originally reported to my manager. My flaky coworker reports to my manager’s manager instead now because my manager reached the end of her rope. I’m hourly but always put in my 8 hours each day. I was arriving within a 30 minute window each morning (between 7.30am and 8am, before anyone else arrives) because I watched flaky coworker arriving any time between 8am and 11am. My manager’s manager micromanages me via my manager and had her tell me I HAVE to be in at a set time every day, no flexibility. She is terrified of her own direct report and passive aggressively manages me instead.

      1. Recent Anon Lurker*

        Ouch, I think it’s definately time to move to something else as soon as you can. Sounds like the managers don’t want or won’t fix the actual problem.

  12. Ali G*

    Like Alison, I am curious how the OP knows they get the same performance reviews. Could they be assessed as a team? I get that total compensation may be public, but I wouldn’t think you would know the content of a co-workers performance evaluation.

    1. Get back in your Lane*

      Does OP mean they are evaluated on the same things? Because Performance reviews and the compensation that follows are not public information, and managers are not allowed to discuss other employees with anyone.

    2. DivineMissL*

      I work in government. Everyone gets the same annual pay increase (if one is approved), no matter what your evaluation says. Now, if someone is doing a horrible job they may get a PIP and may eventually get fired; but everyone else gets the same 2% increase across the board. When I first started working here and found that out, I asked, “What’s the incentive to be a high performer, then?” And the answer was, “There isn’t one.”

      1. Observer*

        Yes, but that doesn’t actually mean that they are getting paid the same amount. Because in a lot of these positions, you’re still being paid hourly, so someone may have the same hourly rate, but they are getting paid for fewer hours.

    3. R.D.*

      Yes. If she’s not this person’s manager she shouldn’t have knowledge of their performance reviews. The OP also seems to “know” a lot about when the coworker is using sick time vs vacation time vs unpaid time. Unless the OP is in payroll how would she know this, even if total compensation is public?

      The letter is more about the coworker’s physical presence than her actual performance. Maybe that’s not the case, but the bulk of the letter was about how much time this person is out and only sentence mentioning any performance issues, which makes it seem like she’s out a lot, but usually covering her work and the times when she didn’t it was addressed.

      If the OP wants more flexibility for herself she should address that. If work is not being done she should address that. Otherwise, she should mind her own business. This letter makes me a bit sad.

    1. atalanta0jess*

      Truth. Regardless of whether the OP thinks Jane has a “good” reason to be crying so often, or that her emergencies are legit, most people who are crying and having emergencies that often are not feeling super awesome.

      1. Fork*

        Indeed. She might have mental health reasons for crying so often, and in that case she’s a lot worse off than OP assumes.

  13. Miss Wels*

    This could’ve been about my former coworker, let’s call her “Lavender”. She was eventually let go because reliable attendance was an essential part of her position description, but the whole situation was a nightmare for the six months she worked with us. When I went to my supervisor before she was let go, I made sure to NEVER make it personally about Lavender and her drama, but explained that I was very stressed from all the extra work I was expected to do to cover for her, and that the quality of my essential duties suffered as a result. Since she was let go, her position has been vacant, so I am still covering more work than I would usually do, but it feels less stressful because I am able to plan and proactively ask others at our organization for help when I know that a busy period is coming up, instead of hoping that Lavender would actually work a full day and rely on her and then be disappointed and burned out when she didn’t.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This is a good point. If OP can point to actual additional work tasks that are falling to her, or deadlines that are being missed / things not getting completed, that is a helpful thing to raise not in a “it’s Jane’s fault” way, but in a “what can we do about this” way. OP shouldn’t be expected to shoulder 1.5 jobs indefinitely, for example – but the solution may be a temp or shuffling around work or something, not penalizing Jane if she’s using, for example, FMLA.

    2. Observer*

      I made sure to NEVER make it personally about Lavender and her drama, but explained that I was very stressed from all the extra work I was expected to do to cover for her, and that the quality of my essential duties suffered as a result.

      This is SOOOO much the key.

      I’m sorry that the position hasn’t been filled yet, but I hope they get someone good.

      1. Miss Wels*

        Thank you. We did interview for it but didn’t feel that any of the candidates were the right fit, so we had to reopen it. It was a hard decision, but we felt it was best to hold out for the right fit rather than settle and have to let them go again in a few months.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      We had a Lavender here as well. It all started when her boyfriend left her by Whatsapp – first she cried like a starving baby for hours, then she had full meltdowns without warning. No need to say it was impossible to get any kind of work done. In the end she got a job somewhere else.

  14. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Very few people fake running out of the office midday distressed and in tears just to slack off work. I agree with the commenters that said there is probably something going on that Jane wishes rather wasn’t. I would understand OP’s frustration if they said they had to cover for Jane and do her work while she’s out. I do not see any mention of that in the letter.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      That was notable to me as well. OP would have a better case if s/he was picking up Jane’s slack, but presumably that would have been mentioned if it was the case, so I’m left assuming this is just bugs OP, which is not a great look.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Yeah, but if you need to literally run out of the office midday crying repeatedly, you have a problem that needs addressing. Especially if that is impacting your coworkers.

      It’s like the letter earlier today about giving money to struggling coworkers. You can’t tell how much someone is struggling by what they show at work.

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        You make it sound like she isn’t addressing it? We don’t know that. Just because a problem isn’t resolved doesn’t mean its not being actively worked on.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          But then privacy comes into it. If people don’t know what the problem is–sure, you can say “Assume it must be a major problem” and “Assume it is in no way due to Jane’s actions” and “Assume Jane is handling it in the best possible way” and maybe these are true. Or maybe not. I think people’s willingness to assume the most generous interpretation wears down over time as nothing changes and no explanation is given and the same accommodations are not made for other people.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          Given that it’s been going on for years and Jane doesn’t acknowledge it as a problem, I think it is much more likely that it is not being worked.

    3. Yorick*

      But some people are more dramatic than others, and rush out of the office for their kid’s stubbed toe and make their coworker who’s going through chemo do all their work for the rest of the day.

      1. R.D.*

        If she was making the letter writer do all her work, why didn’t the letter writer mention that in the letter?

      2. a1*

        Exactly! Some people’s emergencies are really not emergencies at all – i.e. no one going to the hospital, no major accident, nothing that must be acted on in this instant, etc.

        Also, yes, there are a lot of people that would “fake running out of the office midday distressed and in tears just to slack off work”. Some of them even proudly brag about it to their friends outside of work.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      This is true. It’s also true that few people would decide it was a nice spring day, and lie to the boss that their kid’s school called and they have to go pick her up. But once you sit next to that person for a couple years, you realize anything is possible.

    5. Yorick*

      Even if they’re not exactly slacking, there’s something frustrating about having to regularly take on tasks that you wouldn’t normally have to do because your coworker is constantly calling out for the sniffles or whatever.

  15. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, you can’t make your boss implement a consistent policy (especially if, as Alison suggests, Jane has some kind of health or personal issue that your boss is working to accommodate).

    What you can do is make sure it’s no skin off YOUR nose. If Jane calls out sick and dumps her work in your lap, you can go to your boss and say, “I can’t accomplish Jane’s work on top of my own today. Which project should I work on today?” (If your boss says “Jane’s, then make sure to let her know how that will affect when you can deliver your own work, or whether you can do it at all.) If the boss tries to tell you to get it all done, then you have a crappy manager and you should hold firm on what you’re able to accomplish in a reasonable workday.

    The point at which someone else’s special treatment becomes your prerogative to work against is when it makes your work harder. But even then, the problem you bring to your boss should be “what can we do to manage my workload?” rather than “stop giving Jane more perks than I get!”

    1. Bad Janet*

      This is spot on. If she hasn’t already, the LW needs to operate on an if/then basis with her manager. If I’m covering for Jane today, then X will get pushed out until tomorrow. No drama, no anger, just a very simple approach of “We now have these resources to get work done, how would you like to allocate them? I’d suggest prioritizing A and C – what do you think?” A good manager will welcome that approach, a bad manager won’t. But it is worth a try.

  16. Leslie knope*

    Yeah, I mean I get that it’s annoying but I feel like OP’s annoyance may be clouding her perspective here. Jane isn’t having life problems at you.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      She may not be having life problems AT the OP, but she is acting like it’s not impactful that those problems are happening, and that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Unless something is really, truly emergent, it’s the responsibility of the person who is impacting bystanders to remember/acknowledge those bystanders exist and try to mitigate the issues that personal problems have on them.

  17. Kay*

    OP and the situation with their coworker reminds me of the letter where OP couldn’t take any time off because their coworker Alex was allowed as much time off as he wanted as an accommodation (I think the being allowed to leave in the middle of the day is what reminded me since both Alex and OP’s coworker are allowed to do this). I really feel for the OP and hope he/she doesn’t get burned out like the OP of that other letter.

    Was there ever an update to that letter btw. I really would like to know what happened.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I think OP, like her predecessor (who refused to cancel/postpone her wedding to work) quit.

      1. Kay*

        Do you have a link? I searched the comments in the original post as well as the archives and I couldn’t find an update anywhere.

  18. FYI*

    I say this with kindness: why do you care? I’ve just never identified with people who monitor what others do and feel diminished by it in some way. Your work ethic is something that is yours; you have it (or not) no matter how someone else behaves. If you want to be sedulous in your work, go for it.
    If you have to pick up her slack once in a while, isn’t that better than going through life crying a lot and unable to work?

    1. AnonAcademic*

      I found myself over invested in a flaky coworker’s schedule and productivity, because I felt there was a double standard where they were “getting away with” bad behavior that I would be punished for (like no-showing meetings). However, in reality, I was not taking full advantage of the flexibility of my role and once I started doing so (e.g. calling into meetings sometimes instead of traveling to attend in person) I felt less stressed and less irritated by her actions. I view being conscientious/a team player as very important and had to realize that there’s not much gained from being offended when others have different values. That coworker’s reputation eventually caught up with them anyhow.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I think this is a great point! I used to be bitter at a coworker who had a lot of work from home time because I felt like I was accommodating her schedule a lot, and because I didn’t feel like I could work from home that often and still succeed in the office. Well it turned out, I could have probably just asked and gotten just as much time at home, and this coworker’s schedule had nothing to do with my problem after all.

    2. restingbutchface*

      Mmm, this.

      If it’s impacting your ability to succeed, then it’s a problem. But if it’s just annoying then I think it’s a distraction – keeping your eyes on your own work and your own drama is always a good idea.

      I couldn’t quite see if these conversations with the boss were “I can’t cover additional work in top of my normal workload, can we look at this?” or “it annoys me that Jane gets special treatment because it’s not fair”. One of those conversations is A-OK, the other isn’t something a boss can assist with and only makes the person look bad.

  19. Aphrodite*

    I’m heading down the minority opinion road here because while yes, it is very possible she is working under FEMA or has issues and has negotiated working time and place, I think it does set a discouraging tone to her co-workers. I’d find it demoralizing if it went on even if I was sympathetic. I would recognize that it would be my problem. However, I’d also acknowledge that I was resentful and would look for another job because I don’t want to see it.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      I think what is actually setting the demoralizing tone is that their company doesn’t allot enough PTO for the general staff to feel like they’re covered if something goes on. Something about the way OP railed against Jane having the NERVE to use her vacation days to take vacation and not as a supplement to her scant sick days feels off.

      1. BethRA*

        OP is not annoyed that Jane is taking vacations, she is annoyed because she thinks Jane is getting more time off than everyone else – that she’s been out enough to have blown through all of her sick AND vacation time, and still takes additional vacation time.

        1. nonegiven*

          If she is on FMLA she could be taking unpaid time off. OP said she is salaried so she must be collecting a full weeks pay but is she exempt? Maybe she is allowed to work from home as an accommodation but if she is non-exempt, then she is unpaid when she isn’t working at all.

      2. Aphrodite*

        The benefits are what they are. If you don’t like your company’s benefits (including PTO) leave, get another job where they are more to your liking or important to your life. But being allowed to overuse is discouraging and makes for resentment on others’ parts. It’s not up to the company to increase the PTO. Sure, it would be nice but they decided that they wanted to cheap out at five days per year. And this person decided she was okay with that so she applied there and got hired. Now it seems that almost everyone wants to cut her slack–and expects the OP to do so as well. Well, the OP resents it. I would too. So my suggestion still stands: get another job and let slacking co-worker (and her manager) deal with it without me.

      3. Anon For Always*

        Agreed. The issue doesn’t really appear to be Jane, it’s that the flexibility that Jane has highlights the flexibility and subpar time off that everyone else has.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Agreed. I’ve got chronic conditions that force me to take more sick time and flexible leave / work from home than any of my coworkers. My productivity is nowhere near what I’d like it to be, and I’m so grateful my colleagues are understanding. I’ve also dealt with a terminally ill parent while working (not direct caretaking, to be fair, but the emotional toll was pretty debilitating.) I also know that despite these things, I need vacation time on top of my sick leave to rest and refocus — just as everyone else does.

      And still! OP’s situation would drive me up the effing wall. I’m at BEC-stage with Jane and I’ve never even met her. The emotional outbursts and sulking are incredibly inappropriate for an office setting, and it does sound like she’s abusing her ability to take leave. I would be absolutely demoralized and probably looking for new employment.

      Maybe I’m just falling into the “I sucked it up, so you should too” fallacy. Or maybe I’m projecting my bad experiences with other people (folks who cultivated crises of their own making, and also people who wildly abused workplace leeway to basically saddle me with their entire jobs.) But I just don’t see how OP is reacting poorly or in any way other than “human.”

      Which is to say, I absolutely agree that there is very possibly more happening than OP understands, but I think it’s just as likely, if not more so, that OP’s assessment is correct and I expected to see more empathy for their perspective here.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s a fair point that we all bring our own experiences to interpret events. Someone upthread mentioned a coworker who would brag about how she faked an emergency to leave work whenever the weather was especially nice. I think most of us have encountered small (or large) kindnesses when someone was carrying a lot that really helped that person, and encountered the sort of person who manages to make every situation extra super dramatic, or is always mired in a problem of their own crafting.

  20. Get back in your Lane*

    I get where OP is irritated but it’s not any of your business, its not hurting you and you have no idea what is really going on both with her life and through work. So stop, and dont bring it up again.

  21. MeganAflame*

    Five days of sick leave seems horribly low. Although I just looked it up and apparently the average in America is 8-10 days per year? I’m a state government employee and I earn 3 weeks of sick leave and 3 weeks of annual leave (vacation time) per year. If I only had five days of sick leave, I would burn through that pretty quickly too.

    I have to say, when I saw the first line of this letter I had to read on to make sure I wasn’t the one being written about. Between some mental health struggles and several bouts of food poisoning/stomach flu, I’ve used up quite a lot of sick leave in the past year, and the only reason I haven’t used it all is because of comp time. I feel for the subject of the letter. I’m sure it sucks to have a coworker out of the office a lot, but it sucks more to have to be the person to call out sick because you’re a person with a body and also feel guilty that you’re letting down your team.

    1. Xarcady*

      I don’t think I’ve ever had more than 5 sick days, except at one state government job where we had 10. One job had 3 sick days a year.

    2. rogue axolotl*

      Oh man, 3 weeks of sick leave *choir of angels.* I don’t even get three days and I’m extremely bitter about it. I mean, I work in an industry that’s notoriously stingy with pay and benefits, but for some reason this one really gets to me (probably because I’m sick a lot and two days of sick leave just feels cruel).

    3. J.*

      Agreed. That’s one work week, which I could EASILY burn through and then some with a single bout of the flu, much less whatever ongoing thing is a problem for the OP’s coworker.

  22. Bad Janet*


    I have cancer, with a prognosis of 5-7 years, if I’m lucky.

    I am out of the office several days a month for treatment. Some of those days, I am getting treatment and not working; some of those days, I am working at home because of fatigue and other side effects.

    I have cried at work, a few times, because emotional instability is a side effect of one of the several drugs I’m on. I have left work suddenly a few times because I called my doctor about something I was feeling and they insisted I come in to be checked out right away.

    Because of the nature of my cancer, I am covered by the ADA, which forbids my employer from discussing with my co-workers either my condition or the reason for any accommodations I’m given. I also am covered by FMLA – which means many of my days off are unpaid. Cancer is expensive so I don’t take unpaid days lightly.

    You assume Jane is just flagrantly abusing the system for no reason, which is the least charitable interpretation of the facts. Be open to the truth which is: You have no idea what’s going on with Jane. You’ve chosen to assume the worst – you could assume that she wouldn’t be doing this without a good reason. That choice is something you *can* control.

    1. the_scientist*

      I just wanted to say that this is a thoughtful and compassionate response. I hope your health remains as good as it possibly can under the circumstances for as long as possible, and that you are surrounded by love, kindness, and support!

    2. Hodie-Hi*

      I hope you are lucky, BadJanet, and that you live as long and happily and well as possible. I also hope it is long enough for new treatments to be developed to extend that even more, and for treatments to no longer be a financial burden. That stress can be as bad as the stress from living with cancer. Best wishes to you.

    3. Jadelyn*

      THANK YOU. This kind of situation is where my mind immediately went when I read the letter – OP seems determined to take the most negative view of Jane’s actions, without considering that there may be real reasons for what’s going on. Changing that outlook might make the situation much better for both OP and Jane (who, I assure you, is aware of how people are seeing her), even if the actual facts of Jane’s attendance don’t change.

      Also, I’m sorry to hear about your situation, and I hope things work out for you as well as they can.

  23. KHB*

    Is this a Jane thing or an employer thing? From what I’ve seen, when employers tolerate or even reward slacking (because they’re too conflict-averse to manage properly, or because they identify with the slackers and want to give them a hand up), it’s rarely limited to just one person. Are there any other signs of poor management or poor priorities at your workplace? If not, then try to assume that Jane has a good reason for what she’s doing and you don’t have all the facts. But if so, then yes, maybe a job search is in order.

  24. justsomeone*

    My husband has a chronic health condition that made his attendance at work incredibly unreliable for about a year. Some days he could only work a few hours, some days he had to work remotely despite it not really being a thing the company allowed. He was out of the office a lot. Because of his health. He didn’t talk about it to his coworkers a lot other than saying “oh, it’s a health thing” but one day one of his coworkers snapped at him about how unreliable he was and all his special treatment and how everyone in the office resented it. He finally told the whole team about his health struggles and basically said, “I’d love to be at work instead of being mostly blind” and they all shut up about it and felt like a$$es about it because there was something larger in play than him just not being at work. But the thing is, he should not have had to disclose that information to ANYONE other than his manager. It’s none of their business. So, OP, I urge you to decide this is none of your business and work around Jane. You don’t know what’s going on in her life, and from what you’ve described, it sounds like she’s going through Some Stuff.

    1. Former Employee*

      I feel bad that your husband had to go though this. I’m assuming it was resolved since you indicated it lasted about a year. However, you also described your husband’s attendance as at work as “incredibly unreliable”. That must have put a burden on his coworkers. So, when you say that he shouldn’t have had to disclose that information to his co-workers, I think that it is unfair to expect them to be understanding regarding a situation about which they have been told exactly nothing.

  25. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    OP, I’m going to come at this from a different perspective. This would totally get under my skin. Even if it is legitimate and your coworker has something going on that is affecting her attendance and work performance, at a certain point it is going to affect you and the rest of the team, even if it’s only the disruption and the discontinuity of her being in and out so much. In my experience the team can be affected by this in intangible ways.

    I’ve worked with “Jane” in the past in many forms. It’s often caused by something real, but even when it is, there becomes a point where I’ve just been frustrated with the person.

    So I’m not going to tell you to be patient or compassionate. I’m going to assume that you are normally not a grouchy busybody, but instead someone who has gotten to the end of their rope with Jane.

    Here’s my advice. Drop it with your boss unless it does affect your work. In the meantime put Jane into the BEC category and disregard as much as you are able to. Anything else will lead to more frustration on your part. Hang in there and work on your performance and find a way to get away from your Jane, bet it promotion, new job, or new department. Be warned, every job and department I’ve ever worked in has had a Jane to some degree or another.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      This is excellent advice, especially the part about the likelihood of encountering a “Jane” again in the future.

      If there’s some way to mitigate the effects of Jane’s absences on your work, talk about that with your boss. Otherwise, let it go. And yes, it might also be time for you to move on – not because of Jane necessarily, but because maybe you’re just “done” with this workplace? Best of luck to you, whatever you decide.

    2. Temperance*

      Yep I’m with you 100% on this. The OP-shaming and chiding her to be compassionate is extremely frustrating.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Gosh, how dare people suggest compassion to someone whose entire letter evinced not a single iota of evidence that compassion was ever a factor in their analysis of the situation, amirite?

        1. London Calling*

          It’s somewhat ironic that you are so harsh on the OP while chiding her for a lack of compassion. Just as we have no idea what is going on in Jane’s life, we similarly have no idea what the OP has to deal with in her private and work life that makes her so impatient with what she sees as her colleague’s failings. Perhaps compassion for them both is in order, but your answers to her are devoid of the understanding that you demand she shows.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Compassion fatigue is a real thing though. People are not bottomless wells. It sounds like this situation has been going on for quite some time. If the OP was writing in after a week or even a month of dealing with this, I would agree with you advocating for more compassion, but it seems to be ‘the normal’ and not ‘the exception’ at this point and it’s okay if that is untenable for the OP.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            When my boss, Mr. Lastname, first came to our branch, he asked me about Perpetually Late Guy (let’s call him Tommy). Tommy has FMLA to take care of his mother, who’s diabetic and is not following her regiment. Boss asked me if coworkers understood Tommy’s situation or if they resented it. I told Boss “both”. Tommy always has a good reason why he’s late or can’t come in. Trouble is, in the past 6 months, he’s been in on time exactly once.

          2. pancakes*

            The OP is the one who’s bent out of shape and seeking guidance, though. You’re speaking of compassion as if it would cost her something to have more of it, when in fact cultivating it would help ease her own state of mind.

    3. rogue axolotl*

      It’s hard to tell from the details given whether Jane is having a hard time and struggling, or just taking advantage of a lax employer, but I think your advice to the letter writer is solid in either case. Bringing it up with the manager hasn’t been productive, and focusing on it is just going to make the letter writer more frustrated. Better to just let it go as much as possible. One thing about the compassionate response is that I find it can help me feel less frustrated even if I don’t know if it’s warranted or not, so it can be a good strategy even if it’s not really altruistic.

      1. Emelle*

        Bitch eating crackers. (When someone has annoyed you so much that them doing ordinary life things annoys the living crap out of you. As in, “look at that bitch over there eating crackers like that.”)

  26. Trout 'Waver*

    I think a lot of people are being very unsympathetic to the OP and projecting their own situation onto them. The OP knows this person better than the entire commentariat here put together. There’s a whole history of interaction that isn’t included in the letter. Making snarky comments about how people are glad their coworkers aren’t like the OP is unkind.

    1. Leslie knope*

      We can’t speculate on interactions that weren’t included in the letter. I think people are just trying to point out that OP may work with the person but that isn’t the same as knowing what’s going on in their lives.

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Agreed. I read frustration in the OP’s letter, not malice. Even the most sympathetic person can reach the point of frustration.

    3. Jen RO*

      Yeah, I am with you here. No one is obligated to disclose anything they don’t want at work, but an “I’m dealing with a personal issue and I need to be away more than usual” on the part of the coworker would work wonders, I bet.

      Also, the OP probably knows more about this that we commenters can speculate.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      This. There are people where I assume flaking on something must mean a serious problem, and things will soon return to normal and I will be extra patient in the meantime.

      There are other people where… yeah, based on experience with them I assume they are flaky (or other adjective), and don’t craft this narrative about how surely only the direst of suffering could cause anyone to be this way.

    5. rogue axolotl*

      To me the responses to this kind of letter are kind of fascinating. In her response, Alison acknowledges that it’s not clear to us, and likely not clear to the letter writer, what Jane’s situation is, but I find that most comments tend to shy away from that ambiguity nonetheless. The dress must be either gold or blue!!

  27. Phoenix Programmer*

    What is up with all the deleted comments lately? I’ve been a regular reader and poster for almost 6 years now and never had comments deleted before. Now it’s happened several times this year where the entire thread is deleted.

    1. Drew*

      Alison has said a few times now that moderating extended digressions and/or threads that turn into flamewars is too stressful and too time-consuming, so she’s using a machete rather than a scalpel. I, for one, am totally fine with this approach – anything that reduces her stress makes it more likely that we’ll get to enjoy this free website for a while longer.

      tl;dr – Alison’s house, Alison’s rules.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I deleted a 46-comment thread this morning that was debating whether or not to post comments correcting word choice. It was wildly off-topic, which is against the rules here.

      I deleted an awfully mean comment on the same thread, which violated the “be kind” edict in the commenting rules.

      I deleted two comments last night from people who were bickering with each other and being increasingly nasty on a personal level.

      All of this violates the commenting rules, which are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. What’s changed is that I’m probably faster to just remove stuff now, rather than patiently explaining said rules to people and asking them to follow them. That’s a function of increased lack of time on my side — although I have to say, even if I get more time back, I think this is probably the better way to continue doing it. But the rules are clearly posted, and if you follow them, your comments aren’t going to get removed.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        My comments have been removed only as part of full thread deletes. On one you posted that the person requested the removal but had stated you were going to stop doing that. The topic I posted on this morning was the off topic one but I engaged after I saw you had posted so I thought that was a go ahead to continue the discussion – sorry about that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, to clarify — I’m not removing comments at people’s request (like they post something, then change their mind, then want it removed) because that was getting out of hand. I am still removing rules violations (when I see them, which is not 100% of the time).

          With the one this morning (well, late last night), I had replied to the original correction saying “thanks for the catch, I’ll fix the post” and mine was the only comment there at the time. I woke up seven hours later and there were 46 additional comments debating whether the correction should have been made at all — so at that point I nuked the whole thread. I do know that it sucks to participate in a thread in good faith and then have it removed, and I don’t want to be cavalier about that. But I also don’t want to allow 46-comment threads that are totally off-topic. All of which is just to say, yeah, I definitely get what you’re saying, and there’s not a perfect solution. I wish there were!

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            Makes sense and thanks for the awesome blog! I really like your moving solution where you kick social tangent down to the bottom but it’s time consuming I totally get just dropping them. Thanks for explaining! I appreciate your time.

  28. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

    ***CW for mentioning eating disorders and suicidal thoughts***

    Wooooow. So, back in 2016, I was in some intensive treatment for an eating disorder (side note: I actually wrote in about one of my coworkers being the “food police” back then, too). For a period of time I “got to” leave work early so I could high-tail it to therapy and IOP. I didn’t advertise this fact because I REALLY didn’t want to discuss this sort of thing at work. The appropriate people knew and I did the best I could to not fall behind, but my coworkers certainly didn’t know the reason I was leaving early unless I specifically told them. When I WAS at work, yeah, I did cry sometimes (even at my desk in a shared office. I tried to keep it at a minimum or go to the bathroom or whatever, but I literally couldn’t control it at times). I probably did “mope around”…because I was dealing with a hellacious mental illness that also affected my physical well-being. I did the best I could and my managers were aware of the situation. That was seriously all I could really handle at that point.

    I have a friend who has bipolar I and when she was initially diagnosed and unstable, her husband had to take a lot of FMLA time because of that. They were trying to get we stabilized, but those things can take a LOT of time. I doubt he was crying at work just because of his personality, but if I’d been in his shoes, I’d have had a very hard time during that period.

    There are people who have to help take care of sick or elderly relatives or children. There are people dealing with health issues themselves, whether mental or physical. There are loads of reasons this sort of thing could be occurring.

    I understand the frustration, but since you DON’T know what’s going on, it’s really pretty crappy to assume the worst. It sounds like you think she’s just taking time off whenever she wants to avoid work when, if it’s something like FMLA time, the time she isn’t taking probably isn’t fun.

    What rubbed me the wrong way the most about this though is the statement that she comes in and mopes to get attention. Is it possible there is ACTUALLY something wrong? Everyone handles different situations differently, and some of us may show more than we really want to. Hell, back in 2014 when I was dealing with depression and some other stuff, I’d start my day every morning by walking into work thinking about jumping off the parking garage. No one at work knew that. I definitely tried to keep up a good front. But I’m sure I wasn’t as successful as I thought I was at the time. And that wasn’t something that I was going to publicize.

    If you’re coworker is dropping the ball on some stuff, talk to your manager. Otherwise, leave it alone and please try to develop some empathy. It’ll help both you and those around you in the long run.

  29. Bigglesworth*

    My spouse has a been diagnosed with a few different mental illnesses and was admitted to a hospital last year around Thanksgiving. His work was generally incredibly understanding even though he had only been there 3 months or so. Some of his supervisors and colleagues were put out because he was one of their strongest workers, but a lot were understanding even if they don’t understand mental illnesses (spouse works in construction).

    Additionally, both my school and my internship were willing to work with me as I dealt with doctors, the hospital, visitation hours, spouse’s workplace, etc. We also don’t have family nearby, so a lot of stuff fell on my shoulders. I basically had to step out of everything for two weeks because when I wasn’t focusing on the medical stuff I was trying to cope at home.

    We were incredibly fortunate to be in places that were willing to work with us, but I can imagine the judgement that could have potentially been aimed at either one of us – him for mental illnesses and me for not being able to spend my “free” time doing work/school. I don’t know your co-worker’s situation, OP, or how much your privy to, but I know that’s i really appreciated the compassion I got even if not everyone knew what was going on.

  30. CommanderBanana*

    OP, this really sucks and I totally feel where you’re coming from – and this is definitely one of the things that can erode a workplace’s morale and chase off high performers. And I absolutely would have been feeling and acting the way you did in the past.

    But Alison’s right. You’ve been told directly – twice – to drop it. It’s entirely possible that there is a situation here that you’re not aware of. And invoking Occam’s Razor, and Jane really is just getting away with stuff, there’s not a lot that you can or should be doing about that.

    I would continue documenting how Jane’s absences affect you in terms of workload and deliverables but keep any future conversations with your manager focused on that and not the fair or unfairness of the situation.

    I have worked in places where it was very hard to fire people, or managers had to be really careful about documenting before any action could be taken, and it’s also entirely possible that this is happening behind the scenes and you’re not aware of it.

  31. Sarah N*

    I’m curious whether the OP truly knows as much as they think they do. Just because Jane is salaried does not mean she’s getting paid for time off in addition to her regular PTO/sick leave. When my husband (who is salaried) took additional paternity leave on top of his allotted PTO/sick leave, it was unpaid (as his firm does not provide any parental leave beyond the normal number of sick/PTO days, aside from short-term disability for mothers who give birth). And how would you see the performance reviews of a colleague?

    In any case, I think there are a few different things to explore here:

    1. Making it very explicit to your manager every time Jane creates extra work for you (which it sounds like is a frequent occurrence), and holding the line on not working extra hours to make up for it. Your boss said to let it go if it’s not affecting your performance, but it sounds like it IS directly affecting you if it’s creating substantial extra work on a regular basis. So, dump this extra work back in your manager’s lap. If the issue here is simply that she’s conflict-averse, make it equally as painful to refuse to deal with the situation as it is to give endless “warnings.” If there truly is a health/family issue on Jane’s part (which I think is pretty likely), then your manager should also be thinking about how to deal with that in ways that don’t impact everyone else — for example, bringing in a temp, hiring an extra person so that everyone isn’t majorly impacted when someone is out sick, whatever.

    2. If part of what is frustrating about this is that YOU don’t get as much flexibility as you want or need, negotiate for that! Maybe this would feel less frustrating to you if you were able to work from home more or leave early when you had an appointment without being charged PTO, or (fill in the blank with what you want). I would be explicit to your boss that it’s very demoralizing to see uneven treatment across coworkers, and if the business can function with one person having a more flexible schedule, that option ought to be open to others as well.

    3. Is it possible to transfer to another team at your company? Or, start job hunting? You don’t necessarily need to go into intense job hunt mode, but it doesn’t hurt to look around. Maybe you’ll find that there’s nothing better out there (which can make you feel better in a way — like yes, there’s this one annoying aspect of this job, but it reminds you that there’s no PERFECT job out there, and perhaps there are good things that make that tradeoff worth it). Or maybe you’ll find a job you do like better! It is possible it will take people leaving and being honest about their reasons for leaving for your company to realize this is a serious issue they need to deal with. (To be clear, I do think it’s very possible that Jane has some legitimate stuff going on in her life here — but, that doesn’t let the MANAGER off scott free for being such a poor communicator about the situation and allowing morale to be so heavily impacted.)

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      >Just because Jane is salaried does not mean she’s getting paid for time off in addition to her regular PTO/sick leave.
      Actually it means that Jane must be paid for the full week in any week that she works. So by the OP’s accounts she is getting paid time off in addition to regular PTO/sick leave.

      1. Sarah N*

        I realize this is technically the law. However, I think many/most companies do not do it this way (even if they should be…)

      2. Aitch Arr*

        Unless she’s already used up her accrued time, then she can be unpaid.

        This was my situation earlier this year. I had been with my employer for less than a year, and so had only accrued a little vacation and a few sick days. Between my own illness and vacation in the winter, I had a low balance. Then my son had a mental health crisis and ended up in the hospital for two weeks. I had no time off left, so had to take the time spent with him as unpaid.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          I hit ‘submit’ too soon.

          One co-worker did in fact complain that I had used up all my time off (the only reason she knew this is because she has access to the time off system – we’re in HR). My manager’s response was maybe she should use more time herself, rather than worry about me. Oh and by the way, cut Aitch Arr some slack, you know why she needs this time. (I should note that even though we’re in the same department, we have different job responsibilities.)

  32. LKW*

    I think reminders of sympathy and patience are warranted – especially since there are mid-day emergencies and crying. Week long vacations could be spent dealing with care givers, hospitals, etc. So unless you see pictures from Aruba, you might want to assume the “vacation” was at the Mayo.

    That said, years ago I was promoted to manager of an Admin group. I was years younger than everyone but because I showed up every day and did all the work and asked for more, I leap frogged over the others in the department. There were five other women. Everyone in that department took, on average, one sick day a week. We were entitled to six. They took their full vacation too. They were getting over 50 paid vacation days a year. And no one ever took the same day sick… so clearly something was afoot.

    So I instituted a new policy in which I counted their absences and had them sign off on them. My boss was not thrilled and said we couldn’t have a policy for only one department. I countered that we already did. That if the engineers took off as many days as this group, they would be fired for cause within months. Instead of holding the admin staff accountable they just kept adding staff. Within two years, almost everyone had quit, one transferred out, one transferred in and I hired a new person. I was able to do more with a staff of three than the prior manager with a staff of 6.

    1. Quickbeam*

      Thanks from someone who works with chronic no shows. I’ve carried 2 full desks for years as a result of people who just game ADA/FMLA and laugh about it.

  33. Lynn P*

    We have a Jane in our office. Her struggles are real – and most are not brought on by her. That said, everyone deals with a lot in our lives, we all have stress, we all need care. I do think the moping around after incidents could be indicative of Jane being manipulative — and that is just salt in the wound when you are the one in the office consistently. Getting these relationships to work more effectively likely means staff experiencing that Jane is present when she is in the office – not trying to get more attention. And that is a job for her manager or HR.

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

      If Jane really does have something major going on that requires all of these absences, the “moping” could literally just be that she feels awful and is having a difficult time controlling that. There are situations in which that is seriously valid, and assuming manipulation is super gross.

      1. Lynn P*

        As I said — it “could be” manipulation and that is certainly how I read OP’s experience. And I also said that I have a Jane and her struggles are valid. You have no idea how serious the issues are for our Jane – but I do and as the head of HR, I still demand that she function as part of the team and support others, not just require support. OP is describing an ongoing problem – not a crisis. Jane can be cared for – have her rights — have her privacy without being the only person whose issues are considered. And FYI, the “super gross” comment was not appreciated or fair.

    2. Fish Microwaver*

      “Moping for attention ” is the OP’s attribution. We have no way of knowing whether this is true but as she is there, she gets the benefit of the doubt.
      However, emotional upset, lack of sleep, side effects of medication etc can all result in behavior that could be construed as “moping”.

  34. Not another Liz*

    This is one of those “Eyes on Your Own Paper” situations.

    Unless Jane’s behavior affects your work, it is not your business.

      1. Arctic*

        And when that happens Jane is warned. But the rest of the time OP is just mad that Jane gets perceived benefits she doesn’t but LW still has to work hard. Her manager is absolutely correct. The times it doesn’t impact her she needs to mind her own business.

      2. Observer*

        Op would probably get a LOT more traction on that issue if they stuck to that. Given that they have TWICE gone to management when it was explicitly not affecting them, I suspect that management isn’t going to jump to hard when they complain.

  35. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    The one thing I’m curious about is how long this has been going on. I went back and reread the OP and the time off is really in the excessive category. So even if credit’s given for the work from home days. You’re looking at 3-4 days per month with the sick days and go home early days.

    That’s a lot! Jane is not working 15%-20% out of the month and that doesn’t include WFH days and vacation.

    ” In any given month, “Jane” will take at least two sick days, leave mid-day several times for some “emergency,” and dramatically leave work while crying at least once. After these incidents, she’ll often work from home a couple days following (sometimes up to a week after the fact)”

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

      If Jane does indeed have FMLA covereage, she can take time totalling up to twelve workweeks in a twelve-month period…so the law actually allows for more than what she’s currently taking.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I wasn’t really going down the FMLA path or even if Jane is taking more sick days than available. My comment (and question) comes from the just how much work Jane is missing and the likely impact to the team.

        The question about impact also comes from how long this has been going on. If it were for the last 3 months, I’d be more in the ‘suck it buttercup’ camp in my advice to the OP, but if we are talking years, then my advice may change.

        And honestly even if Jane is under FMLA protection. That doesn’t negate the impact or level of frustration for the OP.

    2. Nita*

      She’s probably not being paid for that time. Even if it’s FMLA, there are limitations on what time off can be paid. For example, some workplaces will limit FMLA sick time to caring for yourself – if you’re a caregiver to someone else, you can have weeks of FMLA sick time banked, and still not be allowed to take it.

    3. Ann O.*

      But what we don’t know from that is whether Jane is working in evenings or on weekends to make up for the mid-day emergencies. It may well be we’re looking at two sick days/month and a lot of working from home. Depending on her job (and what’s going on in her life) that may be totally reasonable. Even the sick days may be getting made up on other days in the week.

      I’ve been in Bay Area tech where job and time flexibility is the cultural norm. So that colors my perspective. Some office jobs really do require physical face time. Some people really require being out of their house in order to work. But plenty of efficient work can get done with a good home setup and a combo of email/IM/phone. If Jane were on most of the teams I’ve been on, what she was doing would be on the very high side of normal/maybe crossing over to the low side of unusual. But as long as she was getting her work done, communicating effectively about how to reach her, and actually being reached, what she was doing wouldn’t be blocking projects or other people’s work.

      Given the OP’s manager doesn’t seem concerned, it’s hard to know from the letter how much of a real problem is here versus there being a problem with the OP focusing too much on someone else’s actions.

  36. Goya de la Mancha*

    I’ve been on the LW’s end, I could have written this post.

    Someone once posted on here about how everyone has a “Goodwill bank”, and how deposits have to eventually be made. Jane could very well be dealing with some serious shit, that almost everyone would feel sympathetic toward. But depending on how long LW has been dealing with this issue, it could be that their Goodwill bank is on empty and has been for awhile. Especially if they are dealing with their own personal issues on top of the added work stress.

    I think most of LW’s resentment is actually geared toward the manager (based on my own experiences) and their “lack” of action. If Jane has some sort of arrangements, then the boss needs to step up to make sure that it’s not affecting others work by removing projects or hiring more help. If Jane doesn’t, then the manager needs to crack down and make sure that policies are being followed equally for all staff members.

    1. Sarah N*

      This. Even if Jane’s issues stem from a very real crisis, the solution to that should NOT be “everyone else works harder and suffers.” There are a lot of ways to deal with the situation that still provide empathy and flexibility to Jane, but don’t throw everyone else on the team under the bus.

    2. tired anon*

      I think this is a very good way of putting it. I’ve had similar frustrations with coworkers, but those frustrations were _always_ a lot more bitter and angry when it was a coworker who hadn’t built up much goodwill, or who didn’t seem to notice or care about their impact on the rest of the team.

      I can definitely see both sides here. If OP can take a breath and let it go because it seems like there is something else going on, that would be good and kind and probably easier on their blood pressure. But I can totally get why OP is frustrated and angry, too.

      1. Sarah N*

        Also, even if you ARE going through something serious in your life, I really don’t think this excuses completely ignoring the impacts on others. When I was on maternity leave, I did take my full leave without apology. But I also definitely knew that certain pieces of my job couldn’t simply be “put on hold” and would impact others — so I was sure to communicate with them about timelines as soon as possible, make sure they had materials from me to do those things, and I thanked them both before I left and when I returned to the office. Obviously people don’t need to share every detail of a medical condition! But I do think everyone should acknowledge that something is going on and that you recognize its impact on others.

    3. Tardigrade*

      Yes, I think the real problem is with the manager who doesn’t seem to get past the warning stage when Jane’s behavior/absence affects the rest of the team. I also think the OP is frustrated with the entire situation and directing it in her letter toward the easiest and most obvious target.

    4. Operational Chaos*

      Empathy fatigue is a very real thing and people seem to like to forgot that too often. I really like the phrasing of the goodwill bank, though.

  37. Banana Pancakes*

    I have a (mostly) invisible disability and have been dealing with chronic pain and illness since I was about 15, herniated my first disc at 19, so I’ve been on the recieving end of a lot of this sort of frustration.

    Having an illness no one can see puts me in a really tough position. I don’t usually look sick, which makes people think I’m faking, but if I “perform” my otherwise invisible illness, people think I’m being a melodramatic crybaby. There’s no way to win!

    I won’t speculate as to what’s going on with your Jane, but having been my office’s Jane, I think it’s important to remember how rarely we have a full information set.

    1. Academic Addie*

      I agree with this. OP, you probably don’t have the full amount of information. But you can decide what you think the problem is and how to resolve it.

      Is it that Jane is leaving extra work on your plate, and you can’t manage? Bring it to your manager, and figure out how to restructure responsibilities.

      Is it that you would like the flexibility Jane appears to have? Negotiate for it!

      Do you feel demoralized by the benefits package (5 sick days is not much!)? Maybe you need to get together with coworkers to approach management about more workable benefits.

      You don’t have all the information, and maybe you never will. But you do have choices in how you handle your frustrations.

  38. Antigone*

    Jane could have been me a few years ago; after a mental health crisis, I had requested an involuntary psychiatric commitment for my partner. I lived out of a hotel room with our pets for a week partly to be near them and partly because they’d trashed our house in the midst of their crisis, and then they needed a lot of support from me in the months afterward as they transitioned through a partial outpatient program to get them back to stability. Meanwhile I was coping with my own difficulties, later diagnosed as PTSD, from the entire experience.

    I was a disaster at work. I didn’t end up requesting formal FMLA because my boss is extremely kind and flexible and basically just gave me the accomodations I needed without making me go through that process, but there was definitely a lot of crying and leaving early and working from home and having panic attacks every time my cell phone rang, and while it tapered off with time, to some extent it went on for months.

    While I did my best to do bits of work in the evenings or wherever I could, I know I let some things drop and was a burden on my coworkers. I am eternally grateful to them and to my boss for granting me the kindness and space to work through my personal stuff. It absolutely was not fair to them. But it was kind and generous. (And ultimately, probably sensible from a business perspective too; me at 50% capacity for several months must have sucked, but was probably better than firing me and starting from scratch with someone else, since me at 100% capacity was just not a possibility given all the stuff happening in my personal life.)

    This may or may not be anything like what’s happening with your coworker, but maybe you can find some solace in knowing that you seem to have a workplace that provides some leeway for people to work through things in their personal life. Someday you may find yourself needing that space and kindness, and you are fortunate enough to be in a place that will, apparently, give it to you.

    In the meanwhile, I would suggest you just keep your boss apprised of whenever it’s affecting your work directly, and otherwise do your best to write it off as not your circus, not your monkeys.

  39. JS*

    OP please drop this. You don’t want to be one of those people who track others time. Plus as others have mentioned you really don’t know her circumstances. As Alison mentioned it might be health related and/or something covered by FMLA. Additionally at some companies like my former company managers are discouraged from talking health issues with the employee as if they say “you don’t look that sick” and make them work, then they are liable. My boss and I were close but he even told me although he cared since we shared a similar health issue he really couldn’t talk about it. Even when my doctor wrote a note for HR she said that I do not have to even legally tell HR what my medical issue is just that I need these accommodations.

    OP your coworker could have worked out this arrangement with HR without your manager being much involved with it. So keeping on pestering him about it or bring it up to others is going to make you look at best like a busybody for tracking others time and at worse a villain if it comes out that Jane has a serious issue like a sick relative or her own serious physical or mental health issues. You don’t want that rep.

    What you CAN do however is focus explicitly on the work. If you require Jane to glue together teapot handles and you are receiving teapots without handles regularly well bring that up to your manager WITHOUT mentioning Jane’s attendance. Your manager may not be able to keep it from happening however he will at least have a note of this so when it comes to your performance you are not docked for efficiency issues. Of course it is annoying not to have things run smoothly but at the end of the day if you aren’t being asked to pick up additional work, do Jane’s job or having your review negatively impacted by it then you have to let it go. If not for your rep then for your own peace of mind.

  40. Jen RO*

    People are making this about “would you switch places with Jane” and it’s… just not about that. It’s about working extra because Jane is unreliable. You can be compassionate at your coworker’s struggles and also want to leave work on time and be able to focus on your own tasks!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      True. That’s why I would keep any conversation with OP’s boss in the frame of looking at her workload and not about Jane and Jane’s time off. It is entirely possible to both be compassionate towards a coworker but also not be able to handle their workload AND your workload indefinitely or to keep up the same level of productivity with someone who is out of the office randomly. Getting into the why of Jane being out is kind of irrelevant; it doesn’t matter whether her reasons are good enough for the OP, what matters is that the OP’s workload is being affected in a way that isn’t tenable, so she and her manager need to come up with a solution.

      If the manager can’t/won’t and the answer is just OP shoulders it forever, then she needs to re-evaluate whether she wants to work there. Jane may have a ‘legitimate’ issue, she may be the office Missing Stair, but it doesn’t really matter.

    2. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox*

      OP has made loads of assumptions about Jane, though, and the majority of the letter is focused on Jane — including some kind of gross speculation about her “moping” to get attention. Like, if the work is the issue, then their manager needs to make sure that’s being taken care of. That MAY NOT involve changing Jane’s circumstances at all.

      I get that it’s frustrating, but the issue that was raised focused almost entirely on Jane and the tone implied that OP seems to assume Jane can’t possibly have a good reason for using this time. So, yeah, of course a lot of us are focusing on reframing thoughts about Jane’s situation. That’s the majority of what OP focused on.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I think we can take the OP at their word that they know what moping looks like.

        And actually the LW didn’t make a comment one way or another on the validity of Jane’s absences. Not one place did she say “Jane’s a big faker”

        She did say that Jane’s a disruption. Which it sounds like she is which can be true even if Jane’s sick.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, we can take the OP’s word on whether Jane mopes. But the OP gives us absolutely NO reason to believe that they know WHY Jane mopes.

          She claims that Jane mopes get attention and claims that the emergencies are “emergencies”. That is ABSOLUTELY questioning the validity of the absences.

      2. Jen RO*

        I think everyone should be focusing on the fact that the manager is not handling the redistribution of the workload… but instead everyone is projecting their own situations onto Jane.

        And I have known people who have “moped” to get attention – most recently, complaining dramatically to all coworkers and audibly sighing after a meeting in which the manager told them to complete their tasks by the mutually agreed upon deadline. Or, after being given a lot of flexibility to deal with medical appointments (on the condition that they stay late and finish the work), leave early, dump everything on the coworkers and then complain about working weekends.

    3. Washi*

      I think that people are saying that because at the end of the letter the OP says “I also find it frustrating that I work hard to be a good, dependable employee while she clearly does not, and yet we still get the same performance reviews and compensation at the end of each year.” And the answer to “why should I try when Jane gets away with everything” is that Jane hasn’t found a great lifehack by bursting into tears and disappearing from work for days at a time. Her coworkers are fed up with her and think she’s a drama llama and she’s gotten several warnings from her manager.

      If I were in the OPs shoes and at BEC level with Jane, I probably couldn’t pull together a lot of sympathy at this point, but I could remind myself that that’s not the kind of person I want to be anyway, and feel good about my work ethic for that reason.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Yup. I went through a similar thing about five years ago that ended up with me institutionalized after a massive depressive episode. I was also missing work and crying at work and I really, really didn’t want to be. I ended up leaving that job, but trust me, I wasn’t off having Happy Fun Times, I was really, really sick.

    4. Temperance*

      ding ding ding

      I especially find it obnoxious because it’s assuming that no one els ein the office is dealing with intense personal struggles, and Jane must have it worse.

    5. Ann O.*

      But the OP states that Jane’s absences have only caused problems several times a year. That’s not great, but frankly, I’ve never worked a job where I didn’t have at least one co-worker whose incompetence, overwhelmedness, or jerkiness didn’t cause me problems several times a year. It’s also unclear how severe the problems were. (We also don’t know the nature of the warnings and whether or not Jane may be on her third strike/one more equals firing)

      There’s very little in the OP’s letter that indicates a work-related impact from Jane’s issues and nothing that indicates a routine impact (beyond the emotional/mental). I think that’s why people aren’t focusing on that issue.

    6. JS*

      But the point is this shouldn’t be about Jane’s leave at all. I have a feeling that OP would be ticked regardless if Jane was getting all her work done because the focus was the leave and not “here’s all the ways her not getting things done impacts me”. In fact it may not even really impact her directly since they said it impacts the “team” and OP manager has shut her down twice saying it doesn’t really effect you. OP DOES need to be more compassionate and frankly mind their own business. I don’t mean to be rude because I know first hand how frustrating it is when someone doesn’t pull their weight but you cant manage that person if you aren’t their manager you can only manage how it is effecting your work.

  41. Arctic*

    Describing someone’s health issues as “antics”, her tears as “dramatically” leaving the office, and her subsequently being down as “moping” for attention (even though most of the time she takes time off after! so clearly she’d prefer NOT to have co-worker’s attention) pretty makes it impossible to have any sympathy for this letter writer.

    1. Arctic*

      Oh and that someone who clearly has a health issue (perhaps mental health perhaps not it doesn’t matter) dares also take earned vacation time!

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Well you are assuming that Jane has health issues. Jane could be just as easily a drama queen that doesn’t like her job. That’s why none of us should make assumptions on Jane. We just don’t know enough.

      1. Arctic*

        It’s high unlikely she’d still be employed if that were the case. And “drama queen” is such a ridiculous gendered slur to throw around anyway.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I assumed Jane is a woman based on the OP using the name “Jane”. So yes, it was gendered, and I meant it to be.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Pssttt… a lot of people take sick days when they are perfectly healthy

          1. Arctic*

            Psssttt if they do it twice a month without being sick they usually aren’t allowed to. The LW is making hateful assumptions when it’s pretty likely (and even Alison goes there) that this is a health issue. If she weren’t so hateful things might be different.

            1. Jen RO*

              I thought you didn’t need a doctor’s note for sick days in the US, is that not true? For reading this site it sounded like you can just call in and say you are not able to come into work. (In my country, the US concept of sick days doesn’t exist – you either take PTO, unpaid leave or bring a doctor’s note.)

              1. Goya de la Mancha*

                I don’t know about other places in the US, but I’ve never had to get a note from the doctor unless it was for FMLA or clearing to return to work after an serious illness/injury.

              2. ArtsNerd*

                It’s workplace-dependent. A lot of them require doctor’s notes but I’d guess that most don’t. You DO need documentation for FMLA and ADA (I think?) But those are different from regular sick leave.

              3. OldJules*

                You can’t just call in whenever you want in the US :) I’m thinking a few calls in and a manager would have a conversation of why you’ve been calling in sick. I work in manufacturing and it’s a lot worse. I have a direct reports I inherited who they tried to terminate because he called in sick too many times plus some other other reasons. But a big chunk of that is for calling in sick. He is lucky to have a tribunal that he can object to which reversed the decision. A tribunal is not a normal either. Technically, he could have been terminated because his ex boss didn’t like his shirt based on law.

    3. Temperance*

      This is incredibly unfair to LW. Have you ever dealt with a Jane? They suck all the energy out of the room. You have someone who has loud emotional outbursts at work (inappropriate!) and then wants sympathy from her colleagues after they were forced to view said emotional outburst.

    4. London Calling*

      I have a lot of sympathy with her because I’ve seen similar situations playing out at work and although they might not have a direct impact they can be both demoralising and frustrating. It might be impossible for you to have any sympathy, that doesn’t mean other people can’t and don’t.

  42. LadyPhoenix*

    Unless you are forced to do Jane’s work or your project relies on Jane, this is a case of “mind your own business”.

    And if it is the case, you need to talk to your manager about making The work more managable.

  43. Czhorat*

    I’ve been Jane.

    I have young kids, (getting less young every day, but kids do that) and a spouse whose work runs into the early evenings several days per week. For our family life to work, I need to be home certain hours and have negotiated extra work from home flexibility and/or shifted hours. I’ve mostly been able to make it work, but it can run counter to culture in some workplaces – to the point that I’ve had to leave one job to go someplace where my schedule was a better cultural fit.

    One of the big takeaways should be that you don’t know. You don’t know what she’s negotiated, you don’t know if she picks up some of her work from home after leaving early. If she checks emails in the early morning. If she’s leaving early because of health issues with her spouse, her children, or even herself. You don’t know if she suffers a mental illness.

    You don’t know.

    Choose kindness, choose to give the benefit of the doubt. If YOU find yourself needing time off, shifted hours, or something else, ask. Perhaps that Jane gets them is an indication that your employer is willing to be flexible if an employee needs it. That is a good thing and should be appreciated.

      1. Alice*

        Do we know that OP is picking up Jane’s work?
        We know that OP’s team has to pick up something a few times a year, and we know that OP’s manager has told her to stay in her lane twice.

  44. animaniactoo*

    OP, I think the crux of this is that from your viewpoint, you’re seeing someone abuse the system without penalty – when you don’t have a lot of freedom yourself to be more than minimally human without penalty.

    I think it sounds like your co-worker has some pretty serious issues – some of which are not well managed and do impact the company when they are ongoing. Here’s the thing: People who have serious issues deserve to be able to work also. They deserve to be able to make a living and be able to pay medical bills and rent and feed themselves and NOT at a bare sustenance rate. The penalty for being ill – in whatever manner – should not be “scarcity of life comforts”.

    However I think there are two issues that you can be clear to your manager about in terms of ways that this DOES affect you – which are not simply workload issues (which is likely what she’s talking about, but I’m going to encourage you to push back on the non-workload ones here – by narrowing down the focus to things that are reasonable for you to not have to deal with).

    1) That you know you don’t have more flexibility than to get sick 1-2 times a year for a few days out of the office and maybe a day to have furniture delivered or a plumber or cable person in without having to dip in to YOUR vacation time. That’s a little tough to begin with, but it’s also common. So seeing that there IS the availability for it within your company but it’s restricted to someone who seems to have a major issue makes you feel penalized for only having minor issues and not major ones. You DO have to give up vacation or pay or something in order to deal with the times when life and being human means you need just a little more time than the company allots you.

    2) The moping.

    In the rare instance that she does come in the day after, she’ll mope around the office acting sad and pitiful in the hopes that someone will ask her what is wrong

    . But – unless I’m reading this really wrong, it’s a day of this and then it’s over? If so – let this go. People are entitled to be human and show feelings – even uncomfortable ones – at the office once in a rare while. I think you’re missing that the choice is between the day of moping and the 2-3 days of WFH. It’s entirely possible that she’s only coming in because she knows she’s already stretched the limit of what extra she does get and can’t afford to do it again this time.

    However, if it’s more than 1 day AND it’s more than a couple of times a year, I think it’s fair to mention to your manager that the lack of control over her emotional state that is either being exercised or possible to have is problematic to deal with from a work environment aspect. It’s awkward, it makes it difficult to approach her about work-related stuff that you may need to discuss with her and so on.

    These are valid “impact” issues that are about more than “can’t get my work done today/got loaded with extra work”, and if you haven’t been clear with your manager, it would be good to be explicit about this.

    1. animaniactoo*

      FWIW: My office had a semi-similar situation to what you’re describing. Except our “Jane” was a little more low-key about it. He was increasingly isolated as he tried to keep up with his job and his worklife and keep his young adult son mentally stable. Somebody got really frustrated one day and made a pretty unsympathetic (but reasonably frustrated) comment about how much time he was out of of the office and having to continually work around all this and what our “Jane” should do about it. Well, the next day we found out he lost the battle and his son had finally succeeded in committing suicide the day before. She felt outright horrible for the things she’d said the day before. Sometimes – peoples lives really are that hard to deal with.

      So – I’m not saying that you’re not reasonable for being frustrated with seeing all of this, just that I urge you when you get to that point to give “Jane” the benefit of the doubt and just draw boundaries for yourself around what you are willing to respond to from her. Find a way to be a little distant but not cold or angry about it if you’re out of ability to be sympathetic and concerned/caring/etc.

  45. NW Mossy*

    I’ve been the manager on the flip side of this, and I know it’s hard on my team when I’m saying “Jane is going to be out for a while, I don’t know when she’ll be back, here’s our plan for how to cover in her absence.” I know they want the details, and I know there’s a certain amount of angst over the uncertainty of when an employee will return and on what terms. There’s a sense of wanting to be sure that this absence, which is indeed a hardship for the team, is “deserved.”

    Ultimately what I end up counseling is similar to Alison’s advice – there’s a certain amount of letting go you have to do when someone you work with is dealing with a serious personal crisis. Their choices and behavior are going to look out of whack to you because they aren’t normal choices and behaviors, and that’s somewhat to be expected. Rather than viewing the glass as half-full by comparing them against the standards of an all-is-well colleague, it can sometimes be helpful to see it as someone doing the best they can under very trying circumstances. It’s not an excuse, but rather a frame that can help activate our ability to treat the other person with professionalism and kindness, rather than take out frustration and anger on them.

    And consider this, too: managers also think a lot about their moral imperative to treat their employees well, especially in times of crisis. I look at what some of my employees have been through over the last year and my heart breaks for them. Without going into details, I very nearly lost one this year, and it really put things into perspective for me. The team doesn’t know what I know, but I hope that on some level, they’re seeing that I’m the sort of boss who’ll support rather than shame when the chips are down.

    1. OhGee*

      I had a long reply started, but this covers it. It’s okay to be frustrated, but you really should let it go if their absenteeism/early departures/increased remote time isn’t deeply affecting your work.

  46. Sick person*

    This is why I am very loud open and upfront about my health issues and FMLA. I am totally the unreliable coworker and I take tons of time off unpaid I have health problems that I have been trying to get diagnosed for over a year and in the mean time just keep getting worse. Jane probably is really self loathing about this. I just want to be able to get up in the morning and not have some part of me or multiple parts hurting. I do still go on vacation because I am not home enjoying my life when I’m not at work most of the time, I’m usually at home miserable and I need something to look forward to and motivate me not to give up. Woman’s health care in the U.S has a proven track record of being awful and it takes the average woman 4 years and 6 doctors to get diagnosed with an autoimmune.

  47. Brett*

    From the manager perspective, what are some examples of the language you can use to communicate to Jane’s coworkers (obviously depending on the scenario)?

    1. Jen RO*

      I am also interested in this, and in ways that the manager should handle the workload. A former employee of mine had some health issues and she had to take time off for doctor’s appointments sometimes. I just told the others that she is out and she will be back tomorrow/at 2/whatever… and then I took her tasks because I felt guilty passing them on to the rest of the team :/ Probably not the best approach…

    2. Xarcady*

      I had an employee who had a truly horrible stretch–her father died and three weeks later she had a miscarriage. She had told me not to tell her coworkers about her father’s death, and then she really, really didn’t want anyone to know about the miscarriage–she was a very private person.

      I had one person asking me why she was out, why she was only working half days, why, why, why? She was a fellow manager and kept hinting that if someone had a serious illness then the rest of the employees needed to know about it, so they could take precautions, but I knew she just wanted the information for its gossip value and so she could lord it over other employees by letting them know she knew something they didn’t.

      My response to her, over and over and over, was: “I’m respecting Sally’s privacy the same way I would respect yours in similar circumstances.” Which gave the message that, yes, something was wrong, but not a hint of what that was.

      The rest of the employees figured out something was very wrong and organized people to take meals over to her house, took her out to lunch, and picked up her work as necessary without complaint.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Alison, I’d love an Ask A Readers post on this! And how and how much “Janes” communicated with coworkers when they’ve been in her position, and how things worked out. I’m still constantly trying to find the line between “taking care of my self” and “rationalizing slacking off and/or unnecessarily burdening my coworkers.”

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Personally, I would prefer a heads-up if it’s possible. Even an email in the morning with, “Jane will be out today. Please take care of X and Y and let me know if you have any trouble getting Z done by 3pm.” I don’t care so much about the “why”, I would just like to know what’s expected of me and how I can adjust my calendar. I have a co-worker who doesn’t feel the need to share when he will be unavailable (due to PTO, work things, or family issues) and it has screwed up some of my timelines more than once. I don’t need details, dude, just tell me if I should not expect your help on our projects.

    5. NW Mossy*

      Thus far my experience has been communicating an indefinite leave rather than intermittent FMLA, but here’s how I talk about it:

      * Reassure the team that you’re in touch with the employee and that the organization is offering support appropriate for the situation. This is especially important if someone suddenly goes AWOL – their teammates worry and want to know they’re OK. I said something like “Jane has been in touch and she’ll be out for a while. Things are OK, but she’s not able to work right now and isn’t sure when she’ll be back.”
      * Acknowledge the impact and make it clear that the absence itself is not a taboo topic, even if the reason is kept private – “I know we’ll need to make some adjustments to our plans with Jane being out – let’s talk about how we want to do that.” Proactively look at the absent employee’s assignments and assess what can wait, what needs to be reassigned, and/or where negotiations with customers/other departments might be necessary to keep expectations reasonable. Encourage the team to step forward with issues that bubble up and tackle them as a group.
      * Keep the focus on what’s reasonable for the team to know and understand, and give regular updates when that’s appropriate. For an indefinite leave, that looks like “Jane will be out for a while and we don’t know yet when she’ll be back,” followed by “Jane says that she’s planning to be back on the 12th.”
      * To the extent that you have the employee’s blessing to do so, discuss any modifications that they’re making as part of a return to work, like new hours, a reduced schedule, increased WFH, and/or working remotely. This can sound like “Jane will be back on the 12th, but working from home in the mornings only for the next few weeks.”
      * Encourage the employee to be transparent about their schedule once they return. No specifics are necessary, but it should be clear when they are (or aren’t) available, to the extent that they can reasonably give a heads-up. A suddenly disabling flare-up of an issue may not allow for that, but these are rarer than things like doctor’s appointments or milder flares of symptoms that still allow the employee to drop a quick email to the team.

      1. Elfie*

        NW Mossy, you sound like my awesome manager when I was out for two separate absences of two months this past year. I’m part of a very small team (3, including my awesome manager), but work on projects within a wider team. I know people were really worried about me, especially with the second absence (mental health issues – depression). I haven’t told anyone other than my manager, HR, and Occupational Health before I started, I’ve just said it’s a chronic illness (which it is, I’ve been diagnosed for 23 years now – yay depression!). I could be Jane – when my depression was poorly managed I would cry at work, take loads of time off unpredictably, hardly ever be on time, you name it. I definitely didn’t do it for attention, but unfortunately I don’t have a poker face at all – you can tell what I’m thinking All The Time (ugh). I like to think I’m good at hiding it, but the reality is I’m probably not as good as I’d like to think.

        I guess my advice to OP would be this – ultimately, you have no idea what’s going on with Jane, and you may never know. If I’m in that situation (and I have been many times, but about other things), I choose to believe the most charitable explanation unless I learn more information. It does wonders for my own peace of mind. Choose to be kind to YOURSELF by thinking more kindly of Jane, and don’t go to the boss again. You’ve already gone twice and it’s got you nowhere. Either you can live with this, or you can’t, but in the meantime take care of yourself and try not to get too hung up on Jane.

    6. Sarah N*

      I think it is reasonable to say something along the lines of “I can’t share details for privacy reasons, but I do want you to know that Jane is dealing with a serious situation right now, and would ask you to be patient for that reason.”

      In terms of redistributing workload, I think it matters a lot whether it’s a one-off situation or an ongoing situation. If this is just occasional absences, then I think the manager taking on critical tasks or asking someone with a lighter load that day to take it on are both fine options. For an ongoing situation where a person can be expected to be out a lot (which sounds like the case w/ Jane), I think hiring a temp or a contract worker until things get better could be helpful, depending on the type of work that needs to be done. For example, I’m a professor, and when I was on maternity leave, a few of my smaller ongoing tasks were redistributed to people who could handle them (spread out across multiple people), but an adjunct instructor was hired to cover my biggest job responsibility (teaching). So, sort of a combo of both things.

  48. Hailrobonia*

    I have a similar situation. I have a coworker who comes in late, leaves early, and is frequently out sick. He got away with this for so long because our manager was mostly absent. Luckily we have a new manager now who seems to be catching on to the pattern.

  49. Horse Sense*

    I’m terrified that I’m about to become this coworker to my team. I am going to be out for 12 weeks on maternity leave and my boss refuses to get a temp to cover my work. I am in charge of many large projects and my work is getting split between the two other people on my team. I really hope they don’t hate me when I return.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Wow, that’s is so clearly your bosses’ fault, though! If your coworkers are reasonable they’ll resent the boss and not you.

    2. Jen RO*

      Honestly, I don’t think short-term things really fall into this category. If I know that Susie broke her hand and will be out for a month, I at least have a timeframe for when the extra workload will end; if Stephanie has been taking a sick day every week for 6 months, with no end in sight… I would see burnout looming.

      It also depends, a lot, on the person. I’ve covered for baby emergencies and cat emergencies with zero hard feelings because I knew the people were usually reliable and they would have covered for me in the same situation. When a coworker who routinely slacked off and dumped work on others had repeated doctor’s appointments, I felt less inclined to step up.

    3. Goya de la Mancha*

      If they act cool towards on return. Please try and remember that it is likely misplaced as they are probably very happy for you and just cranky with your boss for not handling this correctly! Congrats on the baby!

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Maternity leave is a completely different situation. It’s for a defined period of time and it’s something you can plan ahead for.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      But you’re in a totally different situation! For one thing, probably everyone can tell that you’re pregnant?

    6. Holly*

      I’m in a large law office and when someone takes maternity/paternity leave, the cases are reassigned – so yes everyone gets more work, but everyone understands why and it’s not an issue.

      I did flag in threads above that people were inadvertently making arguments that could apply to family leave, but I really don’t think that was the intention. If you have a reasonable workplace with reasonable coworkers, everyone will understand.

    7. Mallows*

      I and one colleague have just covered the second maternity leave for the same person in 18 months; we had a very large project go online while she was out, and my entire spring and summer were eaten up by that project and by being forced to travel 75% of the time. I don’t hate her. I am burned the hell out, have gained a bunch of weight and was drinking way too much – but I don’t hate my co-worker.

      Having covered four maternity leaves in the past 6 years, I have to say it would be nice if the company recognized that extra workload in SOME way. But that’s not on my co-workers.

  50. BeenThereDoneThat*

    Trust me on this one – it will do you no good to stew over your coworker’s absence. Like Alison and many of the commentators have said, there could be so many legitimate reasons as to why and management could be working with her on her situation.

    Even if it’s not, there really is not much you can do about it. I would suggest alerting your manager to when it does have a direct impact to your work but leave it alone as much as you can. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to let go but your mental health/burnout/relationship with your job will be much better when you do.

    I was in a situation where my immediate coworker’s absences did have a direct impact on my workload and still management did nothing to handle his absences issues. I finally had to let go of the anger and resentment, as hard as it was, and take care of myself.

  51. Observer*

    OP, this is mostly none of your business. If you want to get some traction on the issues that DO affect you, stop being the hall monitor and stop complaining about her behavior. Period.

    Then, you go to your manager ONLY when it affects your work, focusing ONLY on the effect on your work, not her schedule. And keep on doing that. Be very explicit about what the specific effects are. Don’t make stuff up, don’t exaggerate and don’t even judge her more stringently than other people. If it’s typical to wait a day for X output, then she gets the same day, regardless of the reason. If everyone gets stuff to you withing a day and it takes her three, you go to your manager and tell her that “Although turnaround for X is generally one day, it’s been three days since I asked Jane and she hasn’t gotten back to me. This is the third time this month it’s happening. How can we handle this.”

    Also, what gives you the standing to put the word “emergency” in quotes? You are essentially accusing your coworker of making stuff up, and unless you are leaving out a LOT of information, you simply have no grounds to do so. If you’ve made comments like this when talking to your manager, you have very likely burned a lot of good will and standing.

  52. Hey Nonny Anon*

    I get that the appearance that Jane is not being held to the same rules as everyone else is maddening. I do. However, letting yourself get eaten alive by the injustice helps no one. Bring up when your workload is adversely affetcted by Jane’s absences, but stay out of the rest. You already know that management is not going to address this in the manner you want, so now all you can do is decide if you can live with that; if you cannot, start job hunting.

    I’ve been in situations in which someone could see me as the Jane in our story. My bosses have been compassionate about what I was going through as a caregiver and as someone with an anxiety disorder/depression. I tried to stay connected while I sat in doctor’s offices and ERs. I logged in late at night after visiting ill relatives. One night, I found a babysitter for my kids until my husband could get home from his evening work commitment so I could visit a close relative in hospice care; I came home and got about four hours of sleep before stopping my hospice again after I got the kids off to school. I came into work instead of using a sick day because I had two meetings; a few minutes after the second meeting ended, I got a call that one of my children was on the way to the ER for a mental health emergency; I was about halfway through my 16 hour stint in the ER when I got the message that my relative has passed away. I can only assume that on the first day I returned to work, I was moping and I know I cried a few times. My child’s mental health emergencies continued for a few more years, resulting in other emergency departures. Running on little sleep and having to negotiate mental health care meant that there were days when I was answering emails at 9 PM after trying to log on using the hospital wifi. I used every bit of energy I had to try to do my work, so I didn’t have an ounce of strength to pretend I was cheerful.

  53. OP*

    Hi all, OP here, I’ve been reading through the comments and appreciate the input. Wanted to clarify on a couple of points:

    First, my coworker in single so it isn’t a matter of her taking care of a family member. This sort of behavior has also happened for the past two and a half years, so this isn’t an isolated incident that I am nitpicking on.

    I know that we’re the same in terms of performance reviews and salary because she has told me so before. I also know a lot of the reason why she’s out is because of head colds, PSM, etc, so I’m not convinced that it is because of a truly deibilitating medical condition. What I mean by her “sulking” after she comes back in is that she’s super short and hostile towards her coworkers and likes to talk about how unfair it is that she’s being expected to work when she does not feel well. Many of my other coworkers find her behavior unprofessional and frustrating as well, but as far as I know, I’m the only one who has said anything about it. I was trying to be neutral about that when writing for advice, but apparently now everyone thinks I’m a horrible, terrible, insensitive person.

    My question, at its core, was is my only option to leave when I find the behavior incredibly demoralizing, and it seems the answer at its core is “yes.” I try my best to let her behavior go and not keep track, but when it’s a person you’re working with directly every single day, across a desk from, that can be hard to do.

    Thank you again to everyone who took the time to comment. In the meantime, I’ll try to have more compassion as to her situation since she might have something more going on.

    1. A New Level of Anon*

      Single people don’t have less responsibilities. In some ways, when things go wrong we can end up having more because we don’t necessarily have another adult around for backup. We don’t have anyone else to take care of us so we end up having to take the time to take care of ourselves. I’d urge you to not forget that.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Also: Side note (this does not appear relevant to Jane, but just putting it out there): When I was single, I became the primary extra person for helping out with my grandparents until another of my sisters was more available and I got married and we roped my husband into helping too. I am (by design, this was a choice) heavily involved in taking care of my godmother’s life for the stuff that she has issues with – because she is single with no children. She asked me to be her “person” and I am. That started when I was single and prior to being the extra for my grandparents. I do keep it out of the office in the main, but just to say – being single doesn’t mean not having friends/family rely on you and need you for stuff.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I don’t think you’re a horrible, terrible, insensitive person.

      It is possible that there is something bigger going on with Jane that you are not privy to, but I completely understand your frustration at the perceived imbalance of responsibility.

      The bottom line is that you can really only address the bits of this that have a direct impact on you. If you’re being expected to cover for Jane and it’s causing issues with getting your own work done, that is something you can address. Unfortunately, you really can’t address the ‘unfair’ aspect of the situation though because 1) you don’t know if you are missing context about what is going on with Jane and 2) sometimes things are unfair in life.

    3. Goya de la Mancha*

      I’ve been in your shoes, so I don’t think you’re a horrible person!

      Unfortunately yes is your answer as to whether or not you’ll have to leave. Which only adds fuel to the fire when you really like your job! Unless you can learn to live and let go until she finds some other job (which I have been very unsuccessful with).

      Good Luck!

    4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Thanks for the additional input OP. I’m with you, I would be frustrated too. My advice from earlier still stands, put Jane in the irrelevant category and focus on you.

    5. animaniactoo*

      I don’t think you’re horrible – I do think that comparative to what you know and have experience with, your benefit of the doubt has been somewhat exhausted. Maybe appropriately, but that won’t help with coping with the results and keeping yourself sane in the face of it.

      Please see my comment above about addressing the morale issue – if she’s actively complaining about being expected to work when she doesn’t feel well, that is something to address with your manager in the “moping” category. I do think it’s worth approaching your manager with a more narrow list of what your issues are, but in the vein of the emotional impact *on you* (and your other co-workers) for this.

      Fwiw – I’m more prone to sinus/head cold/bronchitis stuff. If I had more ability to stay home I would but I get that it’s not considered “reasonable” to do in our work mentality. It’s a catch-22. If I come to work coughing my head off for 3 weeks people want to know why I didn’t stay home. If I stay home, I’m taking off too many days and I’m not THAT sick. It’s also very possible that she’s got something undiagnosed but because it doesn’t FEEL super-serious, and it feels like so much other stuff, she keeps assigning it to herself as it must be those things. Yeah, and then I discovered I have silent migraines (all the symptoms except the headache that tells you it’s a migraine) and have had all of my life and that’s really to blame for some of the stuff that I thought was other things and has had me blowing through my PTO early for most of my adult work life.

    6. KHB*

      What it comes down to is, there’s only so much you can do to control other people’s behavior. Jane’s gonna Jane, it looks like, and you’ve talked to your manager about it and nothing’s changed. So this is the way things are, and now you need to decide whether you want to stay and deal with it or jump ship.

      1. kelmarander*

        My humble advice: don’t quit a job over one co-worker if you don’t already have 100% assurance that: a) this person or situation couldn’t very well change tomorrow; and b) you’ve found a new workplace with zero people-based drama. (Let me know if you find one of those!)

        Making a “jump ship” decision over one person’s behavior won’t solve your problem because you will inevitably run into someone else even worse at your next job.

        It took me 6 jobs in 5 years (in an industry allergic to turnover) to learn this lesson the hard way. Interpersonal problems at work are not about other people (even horrible bosses). They all boil down to how YOU choose to cope with those other people. Until you deal with your own coping skills, and the choices you can make in responding to a problem, you are always going to be in a work environment that frustrates you or seems unfair.

        It’s easier said than done, and you have to find your own path to how you come to peace with this. A lot of what helped me get through it was learning to be patient for karma to kick in. Injustice may seem to prevail now, but sooner or later, a flake breaks away or a drama llama is put out to pasture. And when you keep your head down through it all and turn out the best work you can, karma will come back to you (and maybe even reward you!) for your patience.

        Waiting out for a flaky boss’ flakiness to blow up into a charge of negligent management meant I was next in line for the big promotion. And letting a drama queen’s rant roll off my back meant I wasn’t pulled down in the vortex of the storm caused when her troublemaking finally landed her an EEO complaint and a demotion.

        My hope for you is that if Jane’s life is truly too much for her and your manager truly isn’t doing his/her job, both of their bad reputations will reach the tipping point, getting you a Janeless workplace, a manager who takes the reins, or maybe both. Life sucks in the meantime, but how do you know that your dream employer isn’t harboring an entire division of Janes?

        1. KHB*

          Fair enough. By “stay and deal or jump ship,” I basically just meant that those are your two options – I wasn’t recommending one over the other.

          But I can imagine circumstances in which jumping ship might be the right choice here – if, for example, Jane’s behavior is a symptom of deeper issues in the workplace that go beyond Jane and OP’s direct manager. Maybe OP’s manager really wants to do something about Jane but has her hands tied by her own manager. Or maybe the overall culture is such that behavior like this doesn’t actually get you a bad reputation.

          You’ll never find a workplace without people-drama, but if the particular flavor of people-drama is bad enough, it can still be a good reason to leave.

    7. LinesInTheSand*

      This is going to sound pithy and I don’t mean it to.

      Can you move desks so you don’t have to be exposed to Jane all the time? It sounds like her presences are at least as damaging as her absences.

    8. Trout 'Waver*

      OP. Sorry many of the commenters here have been unkind. People who have been “Jane” in their office because of a legitimate reason are quick to post here, but nobody is ever going to post that they were the “Jane” of their office because they were overly dramatic and entitled. So the comments will skew heavy in that direction.

      1. jolene*

        Ooh, this is such a good point! No “Jane” would ever recognise herself – she’d see herself as a suffering martyr. I am entirely on the OP’s side. Jane sounds like an utter nightmare.

    9. Holly*

      I don’t think you’re being horrible/insensitive at all! Remember commenters only have the information contained in the letter, and more context always helps.

      I have a Jane in my law office who is probably suffering from some sort of hypochondria because she always has some made up sickness or what not, and is thus allowed more work from home time or sick days than probably should. It’s definitely annoying and demoralizing, but at some point you just have to ignore it and stick to your own work – I wouldn’t want to deal be someone with that poor attitude or potential hypochondria (or who knows, she could have an actual mental or physical illness that has been diagnosed).

    10. Jennifer Thneed*

      > my coworker in single so it isn’t a matter of her taking care of a family member

      By “family member” here, you mean spouse or child? What about siblings or parents or grandparents?

      OP, part of why people jumped on you is that your writing is imprecise and people can only judge from what they see. When you say, “she’ll mope around the office acting sad and pitiful in the hopes that someone will ask her what is wrong”, well, you’re assuming her motive (which isn’t fair) and also it’s a fairly mean thing to say. However, if you just said “she’ll mope around the office acting sad”, well, that’s much closer to a statement of fact. And it’s still annoying behavior, but the statement doesn’t make *you* look bad.

      > I know that we’re the same in terms of performance reviews and salary because she has told me so before.

      Actually, what you know is that she TOLD you that you’re the same. Is she generally a truthful person? (You can’t truly know if that stuff is true unless you’re seeing the actual paperwork.)

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        A. Nobody should be jumping on OPs at all. Even if you think they are wrong, there’s no reason to beat them up.
        B. We’ve all run into Drama Llama’s who very much mope and carry on in hopes of getting attention. It’s not unreasonable to believe the OP recognizes this vs. somebody having a bad day.
        C. It’s reasonable for the OP to form an opinion based on what Jane has told her. Seriously they’d let that conversation stand up as testimony in a court of law… but here we should question it? It would be different if the OP says that she got the information from a third party.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Ughh… who stuck that apostrophe in there while I wasn’t looking?

          *Drama Llamas

        2. Mary*

          It’s also the case that lots and lots of people with chronic conditions have been accused of being drama llamas too, though, so “observer thinks I’m a drama llama” isn’t the same thing as “is a drama llama”.

        3. Emily S*

          >> Drama Llama’s who very much mope and carry on in hopes of getting attention… vs. somebody having a bad day.

          I can’t say I’ve ever met a person who “moped and carried on in hopes of getting attention” who wasn’t doing it because they were going through something. People who feel fine don’t mope and want attention.

          This “hopes to get attention” vs “having a bad day” is a false dichotomy where people who keep their problems private are cast as the only people who have real problems, and everyone who reaches out to others for support or sympathy is a big faker. That’s just not true and is really uncharitable.

          1. a1*

            People who feel fine don’t mope and want attention

            Yes they do. They use it as a form of manipulation. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people are just manipulative and faking issues gets the out of things, or gets them sympathy/attention, or whatever, and they don’t actually have any issues going on outside of work/school/wherever you are dealing with them – no sick relatives, no problem with kids (if they have them), no hidden disabilities, etc.

          2. Lilly*

            I must respectfully disagree. I once worked with a woman whose Borderline Personality Disorder compelled her to do this exact “mopey sad face” until someone asked her what was wrong. 45 minutes later, they’d still be trying to extricate themselves. People generally fell for it once and then avoided her like the plague. She was like a human dementor, sucking all of the energy and happiness from a room. I don’t miss her at all.

            1. Mary*

              Having BPD is kind of the definition of having real problems. I mean, you’re completely entitled to find that behaviour annoying, and I think lots of people would! But BPD is usually accompanied by things like major anxiety and depression: it’s really not a made-up problem.

            2. Temperance*

              I totally wasn’t going to say this, but yeah that was my first thought. My mom is BPD and she’s a total Jane.

    11. Relly*

      The horrible thing about life is that it isn’t always either-or. By which I mean, Jane might legitimately be going through some awful, hideous stuff, AND she might be a manipulative unpleasant person who is feeding the drama. Horrible life situations also happen to crappy people, and that can really make compassion hard.

    12. Get back in your Lane*

      I don’t think you are horrible or insensitive, but life is not fair and the workload is never even and neither ever will be. No matter what your co-worker has told you it’s not everything, and the part you don’t know is the part that makes the difference (and inevitably makes you sound like an ASS, sorry it just does).

      Real Advice from someone almost 20 years in their career: let go of what you perceive other people are getting away with. Do the work you are assigned and what else you can take on to the best of your ability. You wont get praised for it every day or every time but you will leave everyone you work with with the knowledge that you are a great asset to have on the team and possibly to lead the team. Sometimes it will help you move forward, but being the complainer even about something that’s unfair only harms you in the future and brings you down now.

    13. Temperance*

      There can be a trend here where the commenters will do backflips trying to find a charitable explanation for bad behavior, and encourage “kindness” or “compassion” in the face of jerkitude. It was very clear from your letter what type of person Jane is.

      I would just honestly start giving it back to her if she whines about having to work when she feels sick, or has inappropriate emotional outbursts. Act like she’s boring and you’re not interested in her drama.

      1. Leslie knope*

        Uh, it doesn’t really sound like Jane is a “type of person.” And it certainly didn’t sound that way from the letter. Maybe you should work on your own attitude instead of insulting the other commenters for doing what we’re supposed to and reading the letters?

        1. Temperance*

          We’re supposed to not be jerks to the LWs, but the comments on this one are pretty unfair to the LW. I’ve seen a ton of unfounded attacks on the LW, and advice column fanfic deciding that Jane must be a stressed out caregiver dealing with serious health issues.

      2. Emily S*

        Those of us who don’t immediately jump to “this person is doing this annoying behavior AT ME on purpose” are not “doing backflips” to arrive at our position. Just like some people default to assuming an unkind motive unless they see evidence to the contrary, some of us default to assuming a kind one unless we see evidence to the contrary. There’s no backflipping involved.

        To me, it was very clear from the LW’s letter that she sees Jane as a certain type of person, but there wasn’t enough supporting evidence provided for us to judge for ourselves what type of person Jane was. We take LWs at their word when it comes to things they say happened, and when it comes to how they describe their own thoughts and mental state, but we don’t have to take their word when they speculate about what’s going on in someone else’s head because in my experience, people who speculate about the motives and inner thoughts of other people are wrong more often than they are right.

        1. Someone Else*

          You used the phrase “immediately jump to” but I thought OP said this had been going on regularly for over 2 years. To me, that’s hardly immediate or jumping. Whether OP is being too harsh or not, this situation is the regular normal at this job and she’s had a ton of time to come to this conclusion.

        2. Temperance*

          LW has been dealing with this for 2.5 years. It’s not immediate judgment, it’s her experience over a long period of time.

    14. beth*

      I think you’re a frustrated person dealing with a situation that, on the surface, looks wildly unfair. Plenty of us lose some of our compassion in a situation like that.

      I also think that there’s a real possibility that the situation might be less unfair than it looks, and that that’s worth keeping in mind while you’re trying to deal with your frustration. Jane being single doesn’t mean she doesn’t have family to care for; she might have a sibling, parent, godparent, grandparent, etc. that she acts as a caregiver for. Similarly, her blaming absences on small issues like colds doesn’t mean she’s not dealing with a larger medical issue; sometimes people who don’t want to disclose their condition will pin absences on smaller things to maintain that privacy (whether it’s a good strategy or not is debatable–the point is, people do do it). Changing your mindset regarding Jane to the assumption that there’s something like this going on might help reduce frustration; it might at least be worth a shot if you want to stay in this job.

      But if you’re pretty sure it won’t work, then I think you’re right that your best option is to move on. You already tried talking to your manager and they told you pretty clearly that the situation isn’t going to change.

    15. LilyP*

      I think we got the wrong impression about “sulking”. Her sitting at her desk looking sad/sighing a lot = nobody else’s business. Her being hostile or unpleasant to work with or constantly complaining or frequently snapping at co-workers = not reasonable and something you could bring up with your manager. There are some good posts on here about dealing with chronically negative co-workers that might be helpful with that aspect of it.

    16. puppies*

      Thanks for the update, OP. This really clarifies things. You never know the whole story of what’s going on with someone, but sounds like Jane is a very difficult coworker.

    17. Shades of Blue*


      I just wanted to say that I was in your shoes and it has only been ~3-4 months that I have finally let my Jane go. In a nutshell, while I agree that we all need to be more compassionate, I believe you! Jane probably sucks balls and it make your life and you coworkers like that much more difficult. What worked with my Jane was ignoring her. I don’t do her work, if she tries to give things to me I don’t help her or give them right back to her. I need to focus on my own work and keep my sanity. My Jane would gladly dump everything on me ‘because I’m so good at everything!’ My Jane can suck it and so can yours! It has been an incredibly demoralizing 2 years with my Jane and the best thing I did was let her be my boss’s problem. I hope you can ignore her in someways, but I understand it might not be that easy depending on your work.

    18. Ann O.*

      You may have tried to be neutral, but you weren’t. Your frustration with Jane leaked through your letter as it does here. Which is fine. Your actual problem is how frustrated you are with her.

      However, some of the assumptions that you ended up seeming to make in the initial letter and update are problematic. Head colds and PMS can be truly debilitating for some people. And being in pain often makes people super short and hostile. It’s hard to say because of course you’re there and we’re not, but it still sounds like you’re assuming malice when you may be faced with someone who is chronically ill. You can’t assume a person’s pain level simply by the label of their illness. At least based on what you’re telling us, this isn’t a case of Jane claiming illness and then being seen hiking, partying, at a fancy restaurant, or otherwise out and about.

      I think whoever asked if you could switch desks had the best solution for you. It is human to be frustrated, especially if Jane’s taking out her discomfort on other people. I don’t know if that’s viable, but it seems like a relevant action that you can bring to your manager since your manager already knows Jane is having a morale impact on you.

        1. Ann O.*

          I was very careful in my wording to distinguish between when I could take the OP at their word and when I couldn’t because the OP is not an empath. They have no way of knowing what Jane’s pain level is from PMS or head colds. Pointing that out is not failing to take them at their word–it’s acknowledging the reality that we don’t live in other people’s bodies.

    19. Observer*

      Two thoughts

      You are still expressing a lot of assumptions you really don’t have standing to make, unless there is still more information you haven’t shared.

      More importantly, a lot of this is still not your business. Again, stick to what IS your business. She’s pushing her work onto you? Your problem. She’s not turning things you need around in a timely fashion? Your Problem. She’s being rude to you or customers? Your problem. She’s crying? Not your problem. She’s taking more time than she’s entitled to? Not your problem.

      Look at ONLY the things that are your problem, and go to your bosses about the ones that have the most impact.

      And, yes, if you can get your desk moved, it might help. Not having her in your face would make it easier for you to deal with this.

    20. Fire-Breathing Icicle*

      Jane sounds awful to work with and, worse than that, so does your manager. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

      Dear Prudence (Emily Yoffe) said something that always stuck with me: “if you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one who yelps the loudest is the one who got hit.”

      There have been a lot of commenters assuming that Jane is just dealing with a tough situation and that it excuses all her behaviour. I think they’re the ones who got hit and are seeing themselves as Jane. Their comments have nothing to do with your situation, and everything to do with their own.

  54. LinesInTheSand*

    What’s jumping out at me in the original letter and the comments is a little self awareness on Jane’s part would go a long way. She doesn’t need to disclose anything. She can say “I’m going through some personal stuff. Please bear with me, I’m working on it.” and that would probably be good enough. But it sounds like she’s not doing that, and the commentators who say it’s none of anyone’s business are missing the point. This is about Jane (or Jane’s boss, or LW’s boss) needing to acknowledge that there is a Situation, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist. Right now, LW is in some bizarro world where she sees something obviously wrong (to her) and everyone above and around her is pretending it’s not happening. That will justifiably unsettle people.

    1. LinesInTheSand*

      Having read OP’s update above, I take this back. Jane has handled all of this poorly, and management refusing to acknowledge the problem after years has gone from “odd” to “serious red flag.”

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I agree with you that *if* Jane had a serious problem outside of work, of whatever nature, that was affecting her, some acknowledgment would help tremendously. Even if the head colds and PMS were worse for her than average. It can be generic, no one needs to hear specific details, but what she’s doing is the in-person equivalent of vague-booking, which probably isn’t winning her much support beyond her manager’s support (or indulgence, depending on the interpretation) and coworkers trying to tune her out in order to avoid the BEC stage that OP may be at already. But ultimately, whether she does this or not, OP’s only move here is to tune it out as much as possible.

      I wouldn’t advise OP leave this job over it, if everything else is pretty good, but physical separation is probably the best answer, if at all practical. I don’t think OP could or should suggest this but if I were the manager, rather than move OP (if that was the offer) I would move Jane’s desk to somewhere more private and less surrounded by coworkers. Privacy for her, less disruption for others.

  55. char*

    I feel like some of my coworkers could have written a letter like this about me… I’ve been out sick all the time recently, and I’ve probably worked more half-days than full days the past few weeks. And I’ll be honest, my stress and frustration with my own situation are probably showing at work, as much as I try not to let it (I nearly cried at my desk today out of exhaustion). I’m really ashamed about this and hate talking about it at work because I’m so afraid my coworkers won’t believe that my situation is as bad as it is and will judge me like OP is judging her coworker. Some of them probably already think I’m just lazy and skiving off work all the time…

    In my case the problem is a medical condition that I still don’t have a diagnosis for yet, let alone a treatment – but the symptoms are debilitating. Trust me when I say that I would MUCH rather be able to work my normal schedule than have to cut out early all the time because of this!

    1. char*

      …Sorry, I wish I hadn’t written this. I think I’m taking this letter too personally. I apologize.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Don’t be sorry, sometimes things just hit you when they hit you and you react.

        It’s hard sometimes to not project what’s going on in our lives to situations presented here. For as much as we sometimes skew, it’s always good to see different POVs even if the result for the OP is to reinforce that’s not what is happening in their case.

      2. Elfie*

        char, I think we all identify with the letters in some way or another, especially the ones we choose to comment upon. It sounds like you’re dealing with some rough issues, and I wish you all the luck. I identified with Jane in this letter because I have behaved in some of the ways described. Take care of yourself – my husband got diagnosed with a neurological condition about 5 years after he started experiencing symptoms, so I know how hard it can be living without a diagnoses. Hopefully when you do get one, it turns out to be manageable!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I hope that you’re able to get a diagnosis and treatment plan soon. Not knowing what’s wrong and how to fix it is incredibly frustrating.

      That being said, I think communication is the key to not being like Jane and is the piece that is largely missing in OP’s situation. You don’t have to give out your medical details, but saying something like “I am dealing with a complicated medical situation” provides context that will let your coworkers know you’re not being lazy.

  56. AnotherCPA*

    Wow, I skipped past a lot of the comments but my read on the letter is that LW is trying to be the office policeman. Unless you are the manager or it affects your work, best to just work on your own stuff. If you are getting the co-workers tasks dumped on you, that would be different.

    But life happens. Stuff happens. And sometimes we don’t know everything that is going in someone’s life.

    I am considered an old person. In my years, I have never had regrets for acting compassionately. I have regrets for not showing enough compassion – co-worker suicide, and if I could do it over I would have reached out to that person and really defended her more in that toxic work environment.

    FWIW I have very rarely come across people who cry needlessly. And that is with many work/life experiences.

  57. Delta Delta*

    I am glad OP responded above, because I feel like she got piled on here a little bit. Yes, it could help to be more compassionate. That’s true about probably all of us most of the time. It’s also entirely possible that Jane’s absences and behavior are bringing down overall morale in the workplace. I worked with a Jane whose life literally fell apart (I’ll spare the details; they’d be identifying and are so shocking that even 10 years later I’m surprised she could keep it together as much as she did). Everyone could see what was going on and cut Jane a lot of slack. But at the same time, it went on for a long time and became a drag on everyone. There’s got to be a middle ground, and I think it takes a good manager to thread the needle to make sure there’s compassion for the Janes while keeping the other employees in good stead.

  58. Effective Immediately*

    I’d love to hear some scripts regarding telling employees ‘hey, you don’t have all the facts here’ when there IS a legitimate, though confidential reason an employee requires accommodations.

    That is honestly one of the things I find most difficult things about managing, personally: I can’t always tell you things, I know it appears unfair, but there is a really good reason I just can’t tell you about.. I had an employee who needed accommodations for an acute mental health crisis one time and the whole team *lost it* over the perceived inequity. I AM normally fair and evenhanded, but they just KNEW I was being nefarious or their coworker was ‘getting away with something’. It was exhausting.

    I’d love some tips/scripts on what to say to staff to ease their minds, because it’s happened to me many times in my career and always feels like walking a tightrope.

    1. Temperance*

      Did you ask the team why they were upset?

      One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve seen here, over and over, is that if something in your working conditions is bothering you, get together with a group of colleagues to address the issue with management. I can see why your team might have approached you to complain when one of their colleagues was given a lot of benefits that they couldn’t access. This is triply true if your employee has bad relationships with her coworkers; they’re going to feel put out picking up her slack if they feel like they’ve been doing it for a period of time already.

      I don’t see it as a breach of confidentiality to say that Jane is going to be on leave for X period of time / working an alternative schedule for the foreseeable future. If your team is covered her workload, they deserve to know parameters (Tom will handle scheduling, Mary will handle phone service, etc.), and when they can expect things to go back to normal.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I really liked Sarah N’s wording above (“I can’t share details for privacy reasons, but I do want you to know that Jane is dealing with a serious situation right now, and would ask you to be patient for that reason”).

      But also sometimes you can talk in general terms about how you handle those situations, like, “I can’t share details for privacy reasons, but I want you to know that in general when people have a serious situation going on in their life — such as a health crisis in their family — we try to do X, Y, and Z to accommodate them. At the same time, we want to respect their privacy, which means that we can’t always share with the rest of the team what’s happening and why. But we’d work to give you that same flexibility and privacy if you were in a situation like that as well.”

    3. boo bot*

      Is it possible to say essentially what you’ve said here? Something like, “I understand why it appears unfair, but there are good reasons for what I’m doing here, and for the sake of Jane’s privacy I can’t talk to you about those reasons. What we can talk about is the impact on you and your work, so let’s do that now.”

      I think that it’s kind of common to feel like even acknowledging the existence of reasons is a violation of Jane’s privacy, but the truth is that it’s already public knowledge that *something* is going on, and if the manager doesn’t say anything, people will just choose their own backstory.

      Of course, it’s possible you’re already doing what I’ve suggested, in which case, I feel like the problem rests with the people who can’t accept that they’re not the ones who get to judge the situation.

    4. beth*

      I think that when there’s something going on, most people don’t actually feel the need to know all the gory details.
      They mostly want to know that A) their manager has an eye on the situation, B) there is a reason for it (even if you can’t share what the reason is) and the coworker isn’t just getting preferential treatment for no reason, and C) they have support if the situation starts impacting their work.

      Even telling people something like, “I can’t share the details with you for privacy reasons, but I hope you can trust me that there is a valid reason for this. Let me know if it’s impacting your work so I can help mitigate that,” can go a long way towards covering all of those bases without revealing any private information.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      I’ve had several manager who were able to convey that Bad Things were going on in a coworker’s life without giving any of the details. Sometimes the coworkers explained at the time, sometimes later, and sometimes never. The wording suggested in the comments sounds familiar for how to do that. The essentials are, you can’t give details but there’s a real situation and a real accommodation happening, and maybe a general timeframe for returning to normalcy (if at all).

      On the flip side, there was one time that I know of where a coworker’s Bad Thing was completely hidden from the coworker’s peers by management, to the point where a (thankfully false) security alert was actually issued. That caused some ill will and distrust, especially because that security alert freaked out some of us who had been working with the person up until they left the company and we weren’t even told they had left the company!

  59. BeyondNumbers*

    I haven’t read the rest of the comments but I’ve been in the exact situation as OP. A coworker who was “sick” at least once a week, and on days when he could actually come into the office, rolled in at 10 am, left at 4 pm, and took two hour lunch breaks. We had similar job functions, and whenever I asked him for help with something he’d say he was too busy or at capacity (even though every time anyone walked by his office he was either editing personal photos or on facebook). My boss over and over acknowledged that coworker was doing nothing and that it was a strain on the rest of us, but refused to do anything about it since, as my boss explained, my coworker was the sole breadwinner and needed a job (even though I countered to my boss once that I would think that would be even more of a reason for my coworker to work hard).

    I knew I had a decision to make – either let it drive me nuts or just ignore the whole situation. So I just ignored it. I focused on the fact that my job, aside from the coworker issue, was amazing and was providing for amazing opportunities, and even spun coworker’s lack of ethic as a plus for me – I got first pick of any special projects that came our way. I learned a lot at that job from a technical standpoint.

    How did it all shake out? My boss wound up leaving and I became coworker’s direct boss (and again, probably in part because of the sheer amount of work I was performing and pushing through – it did get recognized by my boss’ bosses!). Within a week of being promoted, I sat down with my coworker and explained to him that I wasn’t happy but let’s forget about the past and move forward, clean slate, that he needed to step up, and I gave him a list of written duties he’d be performing going forward, and he said he was pumped and ready to step up. But, nothing got done. Other staff on our team kept coming to me and said all he was doing was trying to push his work onto them (and supplied me with emails verifying this). He wound up not coming to the office ever, and claimed he was working from home, even though every time I tried to reach him he wouldn’t get back to me for at least a couple of hours. As he refused to pick up his phone I sent him an email telling him that he needed to be in the office Monday to Friday, 9 – 5, and perform his job duties and if he couldn’t do that he needed to explain to me as to why. He resigned, and that was that. My other direct reports told me that he complained to him that he should have been promoted, not me. That was the last I heard of him, and through the grapevine I’ve heard his career is floundering still.

    So the point of my post? You can’t control your coworker, or your boss. But if you love your job, keep your head down and keep working hard – it may pay off.

  60. LilyP*

    Think of it this way — Jane’s showing you the keys to the gold mine! You could also slack off, fake sick, complain all the time and still get the same pay and rewards!

    I bet you immediately thought of like six different reasons you wouldn’t actually act like that — professional reputation, a good future reference, needing to actually accomplish things in order to get promoted, your resume, personal satisfaction, etc. Maybe focusing on all the reasons you wouldn’t act like Jane even if you could “get away with it” will help you worry about the “unfair” part less and see how her behavior is not consequence-free

  61. Anon for this*

    OP, if it is not affecting your own work, you really need to let go of it. As Alison says, you don’t know what the facts are. I’ve been Jane and I can assure you, I would have preferred to be you, rather than taking care of a child with on chemo and an azzhole cheating husband. My manager and a few trusted colleagues knew what was up but i certainly wasn’t sharing with others. I suggest you assume the most charitable interpretation. It could very well be correct. And if it’s not, well, then you’ll have reputation for being a kind person.
    And be glad you don’t have a life that means you cry a lot at work and have to leave suddenly for emergencies.

  62. TheBeetsMotel*

    This will get buried, but I still want to contribute:

    I’ve absolutely been you, OP. I watched a co-worker schlep in late every day, half-ass their way through their job, get to have days off without having to give the same notice we all did – to find out they were suffering major depression and going through a divorce at 25.

    Having dealt with depression myself since then, I am a lot more compassionate to people dealing with “hidden” problems. I also learned the value of not complaining for complaint’s sake, when a situation doesn’t actually affect my work.

  63. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    This coworker is similar to one of mine.

    Believe me, I reminded myself daily to have compassion, to pray for her, to be patient. That my life was so less chaotic than hers and to be thankful for it. She is a total flake, nothing ever works right when she tries something (and it worked flawlessly for me), her boyfriend is not that supportive, her dad has PTSD, her boyfriend’s mother is not reliable as a back up babysitter, her car had issues, her house had issues, the stray dog she took in had issues, her grandparents and aunty all have serious health issues, she feels unfulfilled and unsupported in her work and she will tell anyone who has time for it. Oh, yeah, multiple personal health issues as well and financial issues too.

    We have a leave package beyond anything I’ve ever known and she used up over 18 sick days at the end of 2017 and missed over 30 days of work between January and May in 2018.

    I picked up the slack every single time.

    And each time, she’s sucking up every last drop of compassion and “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry to hear that!” from every person she can.

    Her life is sucky and unlucky, without a doubt. I know because everyone knows because she’s constantly telling everyone about it. And it’s endless. Her bad life combined with a touch of paranoia, jealousy, severe self-esteem issues and her very great need for sympathy was exhausting. Never knowing when she was coming in was annoying and increasingly unmanageable as I picked up all the slack. She would get jealous of the special project I got (I understand why she felt that way) and I offered her half of the project. She couldn’t finish it…and got sick again anyway.

    The executive secretary on my team and I could only manage to be polite after a while: the compassion can burn out with poor souls like this. I was tapped out and when the opportunity came for me to change departments, I jumped at it. Poor soul misses me because she could always rely on me to get it done, whether it was my work, or hers. My replacement is not so reliable.

    People need to be compassionate, of course. But if morale is taking a hit due to chaotic and needy behaviour, it becomes a management issue.

  64. Public Sector Manager*

    I’ve been a manager for the past 9 years now, and one of the best pieces of advice I give to my team is one that I got from a national call-in radio show. When someone has a complaint like the OP, and they call into the show, the host will say, “well, I don’t have the manager or the coworker on the line, so what can I do for you?” And that’s great advice for the OP here and for my team–you can change yourself, but you can’t change other people.

    So if your coworker comes in late and leaves early, is it adding to your work load? If it is, then there are some great scripts in the other comments above and Alison’s advice about going to your boss and asking your boss about how to prioritize the work. If it’s not impacting your work, then you have to change the only thing you can change–your frame of mind.

    OP, the 5 days (40 hours) of sick leave you get is, in my experience, pretty bad. And the lack of sick leave, and presumably PTO, probably contributes greatly to your frustration. I’m in government service and our new employees get 90-100 hours of sick leave per year to start (depending on classification). You really should look at the benefits for your industry and if your employer’s benefits are in-line with the industry standards for your area. But I’m going to hazard a guess that your employer’s benefits are probably lower than the industry. Low benefits would be something to push back on with your employer as a group. Or at least determine if the benefits are really a deal breaker for you in your job and whether better benefits with a different employer is worth the move.

    Just as an aside, a lot of the comments today made me really sad. As a coworker, stop getting hung up on why a person is gone. It’s totally irrelevant to you why someone is off work. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a kid’s soccer practice, a family member suffering from addiction, a head cold, or a life-threatening disease. All that is relevant is whether that person’s absence is impacting your day-to-day work. And if it is, go back to your boss about prioritizing the work. If you boss says, “suck it up,” then you have a terrible boss. Full stop.

    I have 20 people working for me and as a boss, I could care less about “butt in the seat” time and I care about productivity.

    One of my employees has a special needs child and she works 32 hours per week. Because we’re in the public sector, she only gets paid 32 hours per week. But in those 32 hours, she turns out more work and better work than any other employee who works for me. If we were being fair, she should get paid double her coworkers because her work is that good. She is my best employee. I’d have no problem paying her the same as someone who works 40 hours per week. It wouldn’t be inequitable at all. You can’t measure employee success by how much or how little someone is in the office (save for working in a call center).

    I have an 8-to-5’er who spends at least 60-90 minutes a day on Facebook and he’s not getting his work done. We’ve counseled him and have him on a PIP for not getting his work done. He’s not more productive just because he’s here.

    And there was someone who struggled with their work and reminded me of the OP’s coworker. I had strong suspicions about whether this employee was abusing our time off policy. I didn’t counsel the employee on sick leave use, I counseled the employee on not getting the work done. Life was really cruel to this employee when the employee’s adult daughter moved back in because the daughter was being abused by her live in boyfriend and the boyfriend was also abusing my employee’s first grandchild. Despite my suspicions about time off abuse and performance issues, when this situation hit, the words out of my mouth were: “I’m so sorry, how can I help? What do you need?” Our performance concerns had to take a back seat for a while. But that doesn’t mean they went away or the person gets a free pass for life. It was just a delay.

    The issue with all these employees is job performance. And that’s what matters at the end of the day. Are you doing more work because someone is gone? If not, then it shouldn’t be a concern and as a manager I’m as flexible as I can about giving my team time off, regardless of the reason. And if you are working longer or harder because someone is gone, tell your manager. That’s why we’re here!

    1. JS*

      Very well said!

      I once had coworkers complain to my manager that I didn’t have enough work because I left anywhere from 30-90 min early each day (we had a policy if your work was done and it was in the afternoon you could leave since there was nights we often had to work late due to campaigns launching at midnight our time). He alerted me to this in our meeting we had and I told him that the reason I can leave early more regularly is I don’t take 2-3 20 minute water breaks a day and I 95% of the time worked through my lunch. They were always chitchatting and taking breaks so of course they weren’t as productive. The complaints stopped after that.

  65. cncx*

    i had a really bad divorce and one of my ex’s favorite things to do was ignore me for days, then start drama with me as i was walking in the door to work. or he would ring my doorbell at 3am and mess up my sleep. guess who cried at work every day for about six months at her new job she took to get away from him? guess who had to spend about a half hour every morning on the clock getting herself together? Was i the best employee ? nah. Had i built up enough goodwill at that job to justify being cut slack? nope. My boss didn’t fire me. my boss’ boss didn’t fire me. My colleagues picked up my slack.

    The situation i would have been in had i lost my job, i shudder to think about it. i couldn’t have made it alive out of that divorce unemployed, i most likely would have ended it all. my point is, sometimes your coworkers aren’t 100% and it sucks and maybe they don’t deserve it and maybe it is unfair to you. But it could save a life. you just don’t know.

  66. GM*

    I had a Jane last year and I can totally sympathize with the OP. I’ll be frank – her taking off so often did not impact my workload one bit, but it did annoy me to think along the same lines as OP. Reading the post and the comments now, I think what exacerbated my irritation was the way my manager handled it. He had apparently tried talking to her and it hadn’t worked (for the record she had no medical issue, just needed to manage her kid at home), so he would instead take out his frustration on us, her peers, by warning us that *we* should be careful about frequently taking leaves or going home whenever we pleased. No one was blunt enough to respond that those of us in the room weren’t the ones doing that. Also, my Jane had a rather smug way about her, kind of like she knew quite well that she was getting away with it.

  67. Koala dreams*

    My advice to you:
    1. It can be very diffcult to deal with coworkers who complain a lot, and in the archives here on Ask a manager you can find posts about who to deal with these negative coworkers. Why don’t you read through the archives and choose some scripts to try on “Jane”?
    2. A lot of frustration seems to stem from the fact that “Jane” is supposed to work full-time, but in practise she only works part time. If you accept that actually, “Jane” is only working part-time and might never work full-time, it will be easier to deal with.

    General comments:
    It seems to me that a lof of the frustration is about the working conditions in general, and “Jane” is just a scapegoat. If the work isn’t impacted negatively by working from home several days a week, it would be very frustrating to be limited to two days work from home a month. If everybody gets the same pay no matter how good at their work, it can seem very unfair. And no matter how you look at it, five sick days is pretty low.

  68. 156hw*

    if it’s affecting you and your coworkers, then you should ask your coworkers what they think and then maybe band together and complain.

  69. LinesInTheSand*

    I see a lot of commenters expressing concern for whatever might be going on with Jane outside of work, and I get that, and I applaud everyone’s efforts to cut everyone some slack by default.


    Life hardship does not absolve you of your responsibility to be a decent human being at work (or in general). You still have to pull it together to deal with other people, and based on the original letter and OP’s updates, that’s not happening, and it’s completely reasonable for OP and her coworkers to want to draw a line there. Someone said up thread that Jane isn’t having problems “at” OP, but if she’s trying to emotionally manipulate coworkers then she most certainly is having problems “at OP” and OP is well within reason to want it to stop.

    Hardship (or mental illness, for that matter) doesn’t excuse inappropriate behavior and I’m alarmed by the number of comments that seem to think otherwise. The deal with employer/employee hardship accommodations is both sides saying “life sucks right now and we’re just going to try our best to get through it” and either side has the ability to say “your best isn’t good enough.” Jane’s current best isn’t good enough here.

    I had a boss once who spoke very inappropriately to one of his directs, and his excuse for this with his manager was “well, my wife and I are having problems and it’s stressful.” Sorry your marriage is on the rocks, but it’s not your employee’s fault, and it’s not their job to be on the receiving end of that stress.

  70. OldJules*

    I have someone on my team who regularly complains or brings up other people’s fault. Like actively trying to undermine people on her team. I paid attention to what she says and is keeping an eye on issues with these other co-workers. But what I saw was interesting. The person who she most passionately dislike is the person who would quietly support her work without being asked and never had a mean thing to say about her. And so it puzzles me. But after weeks of conversation, it slipped out that this co-worker was getting exceeds rating and a sizable pay bump.

    Their boss’s lack of management skills isn’t her co-workers fault. And while she is my most senior/experienced person on the team, it made me question her judgement a little. So now I actively tell her, thanks for letting me know, I am keeping a close eye on everyone. But let’s be honest, I can’t build a cohesive team if one person is always picking faults with others. If it doesn’t stop, it will be a coaching/performance conversation. Don’t be that person.

    How she is treated by management isn’t her fault. Some managers peanut butter performance and merit because if the raise is so small, it’s not worth trying to differentiate. But people teach you how much they value you by how they treat you. If your manager is the issue, don’t make this about the person being treated special.

  71. Two Pi Man*

    Jane’s behaviour sounds a bit like mine 12 years ago. I was the sole carer for my elderly, dying grandparents and often had to leave work early / unexpectedly / work from home / be out of the office for days dealing with their health problems or a dementia-induced crisis. Office policy was that vacation days had to be booked weeks in advance & there was no work from home allowed.

    I wouldn’t have blamed my boss at all if they’d said “look, we need you to be in the office reliably, so we’re letting you go.” But they didn’t; they gave me a lot of lattitude (my boss told me that some of my co-workers did complain about this) and worked out ways to keep me employed while I dealt with that very difficult period.

    I think they thought I was valuable enough to the company to help me through this and I like to think I’ve repayed them with a decade of reliable service since my grandparents passing.

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