updates: the annoying coworker, the denied vacation day, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My annoying coworker is driving everyone crazy

I wrote in about the annoying coworker “Sansa” who was driving everyone crazy, and thankfully I have an update.

First of all, I want to thank you and all the wonderful readers for giving me some helpful advice. I read every comment. Your advice helped me to alleviate some guilt – knowing that it wasn’t my problem to fix helped me to let things roll of my shoulders more. I did try to take some of the suggestions from readers to heart, such as trying to include Sansa more and engage her in conversation when I had the time.

We had a new person join the team, and by the end of the first day she approached one of us asking about Sansa because she was already so annoyed with her. She said she didn’t want to say something because it seemed like we were all friends with Sansa, but that she was having a hard time dealing with her. This validated to me 1) that we were still treating Sansa well and as part of the team despite the difficulties and 2) that this was not an issue of our team being a clique because an outsider noticed her frustrating habits pretty immediately and has since seamlessly joined the team.

As some readers suggested, it came out that Sansa does have performance issues. None of us really worked with her before so we assumed she was doing good work, but she is working on a big project with another colleague now and has made some significant mistakes. She won’t take feedback, insists on doing things in a way that is longer/more complicated than necessary (and this is a time sensitive project), and knowingly used incorrect materials because she didn’t want to have to ask for the right version.

Anyways, on to the good news. It was just announced that her desk will be moved to accommodate some new hires. Today is my last day sitting next to her. She will soon be in a completely different area, and we are all very grateful. I am unsure if her quirks had anything to do with the decision, but my manager gave me a knowing smile when I mentioned it.

2. Can I leverage a job offer to get my organization to fire my boss?

Hey all, appreciate AAM’s response and your comments. A ton has changed since I wrote. I pretty much gave up on any “changes coming down the pike” and because other issues with Janet popped up (won’t get into it because it has to do with my coworker, but some really bad stuff) I really revved up my job search and decided I just needed to get out ASAP. I wasn’t sure if I would still try to leverage the job offer if I received it (as of today, haven’t heard back). However… two weeks ago, HR let me know that Janet would be starting a PIP the following week! It took so long to give an update because higher ups had to approve. As part of the terms, Carl and I would have to meet with HR to give updates on Janet’s progress. Well, a few days after my meeting with HR, I received an email from COO saying that Janet quit!!! I’m thinking that she refused the terms of the PIP. Such a relief, but the saga continues- Janet hasn’t acknowledged her resignation to the team and has awkwardly kept on with business as usual. We’re not even sure when her last day is. But that aside, she is definitely resigning and hopefully things will look up from here. I have learned a ton from this whole ordeal that I know I’ll be able to use as I go on in my career.”

After this, things got crazier before they got better. Before we found out about Janet quitting, Carl had also been looking for jobs and interviewing and ended up getting an amazing offer by the end of December. I know Carl was sad to go and felt terrible about leaving me alone in the department, but the offer really was fantastic. So, from early January to now, I’ve been running what was formerly a 4 person department (we were cut to 3 in 2016 for funding reasons) alone. I had part-time help for a few weeks and that person has now been hired to full time. And, I was promoted to department director! One of the most frustrating things is that I have been left to clean up Janet’s mess, which was a lot bigger and has more implications than I realized. Other senior staff members became aware of this and are providing support as they can.

I’m happy with the way things worked out and glad that it seems my organization was taking the issues seriously. I don’t think they have ever experienced this with someone high up and were trying to take all of the precautions necessary. Things can move slowly in nonprofits. I’ll never know for sure if she would have been fired and I’m glad she saw herself out. The last thing I’m still wondering is how Janet slipped through the cracks, considering her strong interview and references (I think. It is practice in my org to call three references, but COO should have done this. I can’t imagine she didn’t). Can you point to any of your previous letters or give any advice on making sure the interview process is as airtight as it can be?

All in all, a learning experience. I’ve surely learned what NOT to do and I have a great mentor who is guiding me through being a manager and an organizational leader for the first time. And I’ve been reading AAM articles, of course.

3. My phone number used to belong to an escort (#4 at the link)

I am currently searching for work and doing writing work. I took your advice and am using a Google Voice number. I actually finally changed my number last night and thought of you. Thanks for your help! It’ll be nice not to get 3 am texts anymore.

4. My office book club is always late (#3 at the link)

I stopped going to the book club after one more try. At the next one, 7 out of 17 guests were at least 20 minutes late. The facilitators of the meeting weren’t willing to start eating without them, so everyone who was on time once again stood around chatting in the parking lot until the last person arrived. After 20 minutes of waiting, I told the facilitators I didn’t want to wait anymore so I left.

I realized that this was causing me more aggravation than fun, so it wasn’t worth continuing.

I also have a family member who is chronically late when we make plans, and if she’s not ready to leave 10 minutes past the agreed time, I leave without her.

5. Calling in sick on a day when time off was denied (#2 at the link)

First of all, my daughter is doing great. After a couple of days of illness, she bounced back. Her insurance is worked out now and the pediatrician says she’s doing wonderfully.

One thing I’d like to clear up: because I work in a 24-hour technical support center, manager schedules don’t line up exactly with their reports, and HR has been given control over scheduling. As a result, while managers can deny a time off request, they can’t officially grant it; HR has the ability to override the request at any time. I had permission from my manager, which is usually sufficient. This is only the second time HR has contacted me about a time off request. The last time was the event I mentioned in the comment section, in which I scheduled vacation for a free cruise but was denied at the last minute.

Per advice in the comment section, I tried to arrange for interim FMLA, but was told the documentation we have (on my wife’s epilepsy and PTSD) will not work because it’s more than six months old. We’re trying to get her back in to a specialist, but once again running into insurance issues. As you may have guessed, the health benefits at my company aren’t great.

I was recently informed that due to a hiring freeze, the PTO increase I was promised next year for my five-year anniversary with the company, from 80 hours to 100, will not be possible.

I am seeking other employment.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong

    LW 5, I am glad you are looking for a way out rather than a way to explain carefully to the bees why they are unreasonable.

  2. Underemployed Erin

    LW 2, people have mentioned talking to other people besides the references you are given. Sometimes, references will give a good reference to someone that they are trying to foist off on someone else.

    1. Kiwi

      LW2, When you ring a referee, find out how closely they worked with the candidate, and ask questions they’ll have trouble weaseling out of. I like “How could Jane improve?” and “If Jane wasn’t leaving, what would you like her to do differently?” and “Would you hire Jane again?” (and if they say “we don’t have the budget”, say “what if you did have the budget? then would you?”). Anything other than an enthusiastic yes to the last one is a huge red flag. And do the reference calls yourself, instead of getting HR to do them.

      Another good way to check how good someone will be is to get them to do a work sample. Like, if your non-profit involves teaching people, getting the candidate to present 10 minutes of a class.

      Good luck – it sounds like you’ll be good!

  3. Foreign Octopus

    OP1 – I’m glad that despite finding Sansa overwhelmingly annoying, you were able to treat her kindly. I find that difficult to achieve as I’m not good with my facial expressions; everything is there on my face whether I want it or not, so kudos. I hope that her moving to a new area will be an improvement for you, if not in general.

    OP4 – I totally feel you. I hate it when people are late and I think you definitely did the right thing by taking off. As fun as book clubs are, this didn’t sound like it was worth the stress.

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney

      Waiting for laggards rewards the latecomers and punishes those who are on time. I love that sentiment and I never wait more than 5-10 minutes for anyone.

  4. Nita

    OP #5, glad your daughter is well! I’m sorry you are still dealing with this though. I hope you’re able to find a more sane job soon. In the meantime – maybe your wife’s regular doctor can fill out the FMLA paperwork, so you don’t have to get in to see a specialist? As far as I know, HR departments don’t require that the papers are filled out by a specialist, just that it’s a doctor who is treating the patient. If that works, it may cut down on the waiting and red tape you have to deal with.

    1. Smarty Boots

      You also may not need to go in to see the doctor — I always just send the form as an email attachment, the docs fill it out, then it’s sent back as a pdf/attachment. I’ve never had a medical office charge for doing this.

      1. OP5

        Thank you! We’ll check with the office about that. Insurance won’t pay for another GP visit this year but if the doctor will fill it out without an appointment, that would be a huge help.

        1. Someone Else

          For what it’s worth, I have had a doctor’s office charge for FMLA paperwork, but they didn’t require an appointment for it. As long as you were being treated there in general, emailing or faxing the forms was fine and they’d do it, but they charged a nominal fee, like $15 or something. Yours may not. It varies. But it’s not completely out of the norm for there to be a separate fee.

        2. JessaB

          There’s another possibility, I forget if you’re in the US or not, but in the US most states have a department of vocational rehabilitation. One of their mandates is usually to help people stay employed. When I needed medical notes and things that I couldn’t afford in Florida, Voc Rehab paid for the doctors, in my case they paid for my adaptive equipment, etc. So maybe they can help you get the documentation you need.

  5. Engineer Girl

    #5 – your HR stinks. I would discuss it with your boss.

    I can see them wanting recent documentation for the FMLA but everything else appears to be arbitrary. The fact that you can’t get your insurance issues straitened says everything about their incompetence.

    They also shouldn’t be working the schedules. That’s HR meddling. Assign someone else to it that can actually spend time working the problem.

    If it’s any consolation I had my bereavement denied by our HR even though my manager pre approved it. I had just returned from my Moms Funeral and HR had actually sent flowers. HR claimed they were worried about sick leave fraud even through I had over 600 hours of accrued sick leave on the books. We received 80 hours per year so I’ll let you decide if I was abusing it.

    There’s a reason so many of us hate HR.

    1. OP5

      My sympathies, that sounds so frustrating! I’m sorry for your loss.

      My company gives the same excuse of “avoiding sick leave fraud” to explain why our sick leave, inclement weather leave, and vacation are all in the same two week PTO bucket now, with a use-it-or-lose-it policy. Our office is basically a Petri dish lately because nobody wants to sacrifice their vacation time over a cold or flu.

      1. Engineer Girl

        So you get two weeks for everything? That’s minimal even by US standards for an office. Add in use it or lose it and it’s bad.

      2. Engineer Girl

        You will also like how they did sick leave calculations. It was stated that our divisions sick leave was above national average so HR was going to cut down on “abuse”. It turned out that HR was including maternity leave in the sick leave calculations, driving the numbers up. Once corrected it turned out that our division was actually taking 2 days a year per person less than national average.
        You can’t make this stuff up.

        1. darsynia

          That is absolutely BONKERS. I mean, I can understand viewing it as under at somewhat ‘medical’ umbrella, but still. Wow.

        2. OP5

          That’s ridiculous. Trying to factor maternity leave into sick leave calculations? They’re stretching like Elastigirl on that one.

          And yes, absolutely all of our paid leave is rolled into PTO, including when the roads are closed down and the office is closed due to storms. That one bothers me more than the sick leave, actually, because the explanation is that we can work from home, but only if we have our own setup with a landline, WiFi, fast computer, and at least two monitors. It’s pretty common for the internet, phone, and/or power to go down during blizzards out in the rural area where I live, so I have to plan on the unavoidable loss of at least a couple of my leave days every winter. It’s irritating.

        3. Reliant

          This reminds me of a small company I once worked for. One day we found the office supply room (you know, pens and paper) locked and were told we needed to go to senior management to unlock it if we needed supplies. The reason is that the expenses in the “office supply” account were suddenly very high and management jumped to the conclusion that employees were stealing office supplies. After some time had passed, the room was opened again because someone with sense figured out that new computer equipment had been included in the office supply category.

        4. Fergus

          . It turned out that HR was including maternity leave in the sick leave calculations

          that could be somewhere illegal, but it is a whole bunch of bees I don’t ever want. I mean they punish everyone because someone took 6 weeks to have a baby. That is batshit crazy.

    2. Approval is optional

      I get why people would hate on HR for this sort of thing, but ultimately ‘management’ is responsible -HR staff only have as much power as management allows them to have. The CEO/C Suite (or equivalent) empowers HR to make decisions, and/or empowers HR to enforce decisions made by management, and/or doesn’t stop HR making decisions that are outside its purview. If HR is out of control, it could be that management is using them as ‘fall guys’, or that management is too weak to rein them in -ultimately management is accountable though. If we direct the hate at HR, we let bad management off the hook.
      I’m not in HR by the way! :)

      1. Engineer Girl

        Your statement is true. That said, there are often several layers between the worker and c-suite. Many c-suite people don’t know what’s going on at ground level. Especially if HR is feeding them their own story.
        This is a case where the middle managers need to band together to protect their reports. Often times they won’t do it because they want to protect their status. So then the workers need to band together. That’s the only time I’ve seen change in HR (other than losing a lawsuit).

        1. Approval is optional

          I agree that they don’t always know – though I’d argue that this is in itself a sign of poor management. And for sure, if I were the OP’s line manager I’d be pushing back on the idea I can’t handle scheduling because my roster doesn’t match that of all my staff! Has nobody there with any clout ever clicked that lots of other orgs with 24/7 coverage manage this just fine without HR oversight?

          1. OP5

            To be fair, our company tends to steer away from giving much power to managers, for good reason: managers are techs who have been promoted, and those promotions are based on customer surveys. Best case scenario, that means the managers are skilled at friendly communication and/or IT solutions. Worst case scenario (and we’ve seen this more than once) someone gets promoted because they consistently hand off difficult calls as quickly as possible and claim simple fixes for themselves. In either case, managers here aren’t chosen for their professionalism or managerial skills.

            1. Approval is optional

              Ok. No. Words. Need my fainting couch!!
              I’m glad your daughter is doing great OP, and I hope the job hunt is short and fruitful!

      1. Kathlynn

        Me too. Dreading the possible management change for this summer. My company has shitty HR, who has already tried to tell me that my boss can order me to do a task when it endangers my life/health due to my asthma. Which is not what work safe regulations or my human rights say. (which are more comprehensive then USA. All chronic illness is automatically seen as a disability for human rights, and entitled to any reasonable accommodations necessary to do their job)

  6. Avalon Angel

    I understand LW3’s conundrum, although in my case, the person who had my cell phone number before me seems to frequently have enjoyed various escort services. He apparently used my number for two things: his business, and getting busy. It’s been 3 years or so, and I still get calls/texts from people either wanting to hire his services or provide him with theirs.

  7. Chriama

    #4 – I think the problem lies with the organizers here. I’m one of those chronically late people (reading your frustration stresses me out because it’s so different from how I operate, haha) but I can usually make it on time for things that have a critical start time. If the organizers had a policy of entering the restaurant at the appointed time and letting people order, the folks that really want to be there would be mostly on time. I mean, they manage to hold down jobs so presumably they aren’t all 40 mins late to work every day. And if they’re late for whatever reason, emergency or otherwise, there’s nothing stopping them from joining the conversation part way through. In other words, the organizers’ policy of not starting until everyone arrives is what is teaching people that the start time is flexible and/or irrelevant. Sorry you had to leave the book club you enjoyed. I’d check out your local library or a website like meetup.com to find another club if you’re hoping to replace the one you left.

    1. Alianora

      Yes, this policy incentivizes people to come late so that they minimize their wait time. Still, if I were 40 minutes late to something and found everyone waiting for me multiple times, I hope I would make an effort not to make them wait that long again.

      1. Darren

        That might never result in people arriving on time again. Say Bob has a tolerance of 2 weeks of late starts before he arrives late deliberately to avoid having to wait so long, Alice 3 weeks, and Carl 4 weeks. All of those three if they are the latest person will come earlier the next week.

        You’d only need a few people having emergencies (out of a group of 20 or so people) and you’d then get in a cycle where Bob is deliberately late, triggering Alice to be late the next week, triggering Carl to be late the week after and if there are any other emergencies it just keeps retriggering.

        Basically once people start being deliberately late you are looking at basically the event never being on-time again.

        1. Alianora

          Yep, which is why this policy is not a good one if the organizers care about starting on time. Anyone who cares about timeliness should probably do what the LW did and leave. Personally it would make me really anxious to be deliberately late even if I knew that’s what everyone else was doing.

    2. nodramalama

      I think it just depends on what kind of group the bookclub is. If the rest of them are happy getting a few coffees and chatting for a while before everyone shows up, then that’s the kind of group it is. It sounds like the rest of the group don’t seem to mind people run late, just the OP

    3. Daisy

      It seems very weird to me to insist everyone waits in the car park. I can’t imagine meeting at a restaurant and not just going in and ordering drinks.

      1. Unlurking

        Many restaurants won’t seat you until your entire party has arrived. Especially if you say you’ll be 17, that’s a huge table.

        1. Beaded Librarian

          I just realized how rude later comers are to the restaurant too. With that many I would assume the group makes a reservation and if they are waiting 20+ minutes past the reservation time that could cause problems for the restaurant.

          1. Antilles

            It doesn’t cause as much problems for the restaurant as you’d think, because most restaurants are pretty clear that (a) only seat full parties or nearly full parties and (b) won’t hold a reservation if you’re more than a few minutes late. When everyone finally shows up, they’ll try to accommodate you, but they won’t hesitate to let other guests jump you in line.
            If your reservation is at 10:00 and you show up at 10:00, the tables will be ready and you can sit right down. If you show up at 10:30, we’ve already given those tables away; we’ll gladly put your group on the waiting list, but it’s essentially in the same spot as if you’d just casually strolled in without warning.

    4. Antilles

      Agreed, the real issue here is the facilitators.
      I mentioned this in the original comments, but basic math is pretty clear here: In most cities, there is little to no traffic on a Sunday morning – so if you’re 40 minutes late, that’s not “you left the house 5-10 minutes late and hit some traffic”, that’s “you didn’t even leave the house until after the event ‘started’ at 10:00”.
      The organizers are allowing this to happen by refusing to start on time; nothing is going to ever change until the organizers either completely change their style and/or there are new people running the book club.

  8. Green Kangaroo

    OP5, that’s not how FMLA works. If you meet the criteria the law (50 or more employees at your organization, you’ve been employed for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1250 hours in the previous 12 months) you are eligible. Your HR rep should have given you a certification form (many employers use the DOL form as it requires only what the law allows – companies can’t ask for more information than that.) Your wife’s physician can fill it out – as other posters have said, there may be a fee. It’s returned to you/your wife so you can turn it it to HR. Your direct supervisor should never be involved in the medical certification process. If your HR doesn’t grant you FMLA leave, they can require a second and third opinion, but the employer has to pay for it. They can’t just deny you outright – there is a process that they don’t seem to be following. Google “FMLA rights” and arm yourself with the knowledge. Employers dislike FMLA, especially intermittent FMLA, but the law is very employee-centered and puts the burden of documentation on the employer. Good luck!

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