is my employee abusing her medical leave?

A reader writes:

One of my staff, who has been with us for three years, takes sick leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on a regular basis. Her FMLA allowance based on her doctor’s notes is that she can miss up to three days a month; she always takes all of them. I personally feel that she abuses it because there have been stretches where she did not take any leave at all and the days seems to always be predictable (Mondays and Fridays); in one example, she was promoted to an assistant manager and didn’t take any leave during the 90-day trial period.

I don’t hold the leave against her professionally and do my best to evaluate her without considering that. She has disclosed to me what her chronic condition is in the past and she admits she refuses to seek treatment for it.

I recently overheard other team members complaining about how she doesn’t get penalized for all her absences. I can’t tell them her situation, but I know how absenteeism hurts team morale and causes more work for everyone else. If she is not violating the terms of her legally required leave, is there anything else I can do to address this with her or to encourage the rest of the team?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Coworker keeps commenting on my pregnant body
  • Should I call a former colleague’s prospective new boss to say how great she is?
  • Interviews on casual Fridays
  • Should I have to ask to be promoted, or should my performance be enough?

{ 291 comments… read them below }

  1. bubbleon*

    LW2’s senior colleague sounds like a child. “You’ve got a turtle body since you got pregnant” is such a weird thing to even think let alone say out loud?

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Right? Like, wtf? And at 5 months and 10 pounds, I think the colleague might be projecting a bit, because that’s….not much.

        1. A Poster Has No Name*

          Oh, for sure, but the 10lbs thing just adds to the WTF-ness of the whole thing.

        2. Dagny*

          Agree, but when you’re pregnant and have gained a tiny, tiny amount of weight that is subject to all sorts of comments far out of proportion to the weight gain, it becomes abundantly clear that the comments are about YOUR BODY, not your pregnancy. The pregnancy is an excuse to let loose with the body comments. In neither situation are the turtle comments appropriate.

          I was a little uncomfortable with people who said things about my body when I was in my third trimester, but I was (expletive) rip-(expletive) when my body was discussed for an entire day when I was like 9 weeks pregnant and had gained a pound and a half. Being charitable, the former could be awkward attempts at conversation, excitement for me, or an attempt to compliment a woman who really doesn’t even feel like herself anymore; the latter is clearly the snake in the grass waiting for the chance to strike.

          Therefore, softening language about “I know you’re excited for me” is not really the correct way to deal with people who run their mouths nonstop about a single-digit weight gain. “It’s not appropriate to comment on my body in the workplace” is a better way to handle it.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Right? I lost ten pounds (not pregnant, just snacking less) and you can’t even tell. I only know because my pants are a little more comfortable. It’s not even enough weight to show unless maybe you’re really small to begin with.

        1. chorolet*

          Being pregnant can change your body shape more than the number on the scale would indicate. I lost 15 pounds right before getting pregnant, but when I got pregnant, I stopped fitting into my pre-diet clothes before I had gained those 15 pounds back. I also looked SUPER pregnant. People were constantly acting surprised that I wasn’t further along. (Ugh.)

          Of course, the coworker should absolutely not be commenting regardless.

          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            Right. Especially pregnancies beyond the first when your abdominal muscles and skin have been stretched before. One can “look” pregnant a lot quicker from the hormones letting everything relax into the pouchy space in the lower abdomen.

          2. mdv*

            I once had a regular customer who came in to handle something, was obviously and largely pregnant in late April/early May. I did not comment on anything, other than “congratulations”. However, when she was STILL pregnant in late July … the only thing I said was “wow, you’re still pregnant?!” She laughed and told me that her husband’s family tended to have LARGE babies, and yes, she was ready to be NOT pregnant anymore…

            Hopefully she just took that as me feeling bad that she was hugely pregnant all through the hottest parts of summer in Kansas, and not any kind of comment on weight or body shape/image!

          3. anne of mean gables*

            Yeah I’m 3 months pregnant and have gained mayyybe 1 pound and my body looks different for sure – I’d be struggling with my current work wardrobe if I was wearing anything other than blouses and running shorts to work right now. That said, lord HELP the person brave enough to comment on it.

          4. blackcat*

            Yeah, I lost a ton at the start of pregnancy (HG), and by the time I hit my pre-pregnacy weight (around 20 weeks), I was a wildly different shape, and looked VERY pregnant (since I was so thin otherwise).
            It was only when my kid was about a year and a half old, with the help of a personal trainer, that I got my butt back.

      2. Mama Bear*

        I wonder if this coworker is just rude or socially clueless. Either way no one should be commenting on the pregnant woman’s shape. Definitely tell this coworker to stop.

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Colleague has real problems. Commenting on someone’s appearance is unacceptable to begin with, but such a childish statement.
      “You look like a turtle.”

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Oof! Well, I suppose people think turtles are very cute and like them. Like cats.
        Probably it’s not MEANT to be all super weird and creepy, and more like putting foot firmly in mouth? Unless they’re obsessing over it. But if it bothers you tell them to stop.

        I am never sure what to say around pregnancy, and so avoid saying anything at all about it now. It’s kind of dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t speak of it kind of thing. Even saying “congratulations on your pregnancy” is fraught with all kinds of awkwards around the office.

        1. SweetTooth*

          I mean, I guess I see what you’re saying, but the vast majority of pregnant ladies are happy not to hear congratulations until they tell you that they are pregnant. Then congratulate away! But if they haven’t mentioned it, then they might not want to be talking about it, they might have some sadness around the pregnancy due to health issues with the baby, or it might be a different medical issue besides pregnancy. I was excited to tell my coworkers that I was expecting, but some people feel differently, especially if they have seen unfair treatment of pregnancy in the office. So saying nothing isn’t awkward unless they are like “guess what, I am pregnant and so excited about it!” and you don’t reply.

          1. DogTrainer*

            Actually, potentially don’t even congratulate. I had someone get upset with me when I congratulated them, because it turns out they didn’t want to be pregnant. So now I just kind of awkwardly say, “Oh, that’s exciting.”

            1. RadNurse*

              If it’s someone that I have good rapport I always say “That’s big news! How do you feel about it?”. I like normalizing the idea that it’s ok to feel a lot of different ways about it. Started professionally as I am often delivering news that someone is pregnant and I always inform them very dispassionately and then pause to let them have any reaction they want, then I realized that I owed that same space and compassion to people who weren’t my patients as well.

            2. Sciencer*

              Oof, I think that’s on them. If you’re sharing news where the standard social response is “congratulations!” then you need to share it with some kind of context if you don’t want to hear that word. The exception would be if the congratulator did so out of the blue, in which case I agree that it’s not a good idea to congratulate someone on a pregnancy they haven’t actually told you about yet. But that’s a whole other issue.

          2. Eva Luna*

            I used to run a monthly dinner as a volunteer, and a woman arrived who I hadn’t seen in a while because she hadn’t come in a few months and was extremely pregnant. I was so nervous about saying anything for fear of offending her until she told me that she was sorry she wouldn’t be able to come for a while, but she was due the following week and was about to be really busy! So I confessed how reluctant I had been to acknowledge it before she did, and we both had a good laugh about it.

        2. Mighty Mouse*

          Don’t ever congratulate a woman who hasn’t told you she’s pregnant. I have a body shape that apparently reads pregnant regardless of my weight and have been driven to tears by people asking me when I’m due. It’s not ok.

          1. Joielle*

            I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding and at the REHEARSAL DINNER a cousin took her aside and asked her when she was due. She wasn’t pregnant, but had gained some weight before the wedding and was already stressed out about it. There was some crying in the bathroom. It was ultimately a lovely wedding but I nearly murdered that cousin.

            Honestly, what runs through people’s heads?? It’s like any indication of possible pregnancy causes people’s brains to shut off. New rule of thumb: if you’re not someone’s doctor or personal trainer, just STFU about the shape of people’s bodies, at all times, always, with zero exceptions.

          2. tangerineRose*

            Dave Barry once said “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”

          3. Solana*

            I like wearing flowing clothes and was asked by a few customers in retail when I was due. Very, very rude.

          4. university admin*

            A good friend of mine was asked multiple times about her pregnancy…. when it was a large tumor (it ended up killing her).

            I really avoid saying anything until the person tells me about it.

            1. allathian*

              I’m so sorry for your loss.

              In my junior year of high school, one of the girls in my class started to look pregnant. She had a serious boyfriend and everybody assumed they were sexually active, so it wouldn’t have been impossible. Turns out she had a large tumor as well. Luckily my classmate recovered.

              Especially after my own pregnancy, I’m usually pretty good at noticing the signs. But I never say anything unless there’s an announcement. I twigged on to a coworker’s pregnancy when she was about 15 weeks along, she told her boss and her team at about 25 weeks. I didn’t let on that I had guessed, though. She had a history of miscarriages, so the baby was very much wanted and I was really happy on her behalf. I also don’t comment on a pregnant person’s body.

            2. WS*

              Yes, I gained a ton of weight very fast while I had cancer and it was hurtful to be constantly asked this. Especially when it came with “Oh, you’re not pregnant” and an expression of disgust.

              I’m sorry to hear about your friend.

        3. Ann Nonymous*

          LW can also treat the comments like compliments. “Thanks!” “Yeah, turtles are really cut!” Then if the opiner wants to show his real dickishness, he will spell out what he really means and out himself as a Jerk.

          1. Kim D.*

            They won’t though. They’ll assume you don’t mind and say something rude again next time.

        4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          That’s my thing. I think the person either doesn’t understand how god-awful this is or doesn’t care. In either case, OP can say stop.

        5. Turtlegirl*

          I‘d kill for a turtle body. The hard shell would make my commute (Tokyo) so much less scary…

          I would never make a comment about anyone’s body though.

    3. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      Problem is, this “child” is described by OP as senior. Maybe so senior that OP doesn’t feel she can say anything. It’s a shame that other senior people within hearing distance don’t say something on behalf of the OP. But people are conditioned not to make waves, even in the face of microagressions.

      If OP doesn’t feel empowered to use Alison’s scripts, she can tweak the language a little bit, such as “Preganancy is difficult enough without having to endure comments on my body.” Same message, just a little less personal.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        Unless OP is really really junior, or it’s a generally disfunctional office, I’d encourage her to use Alison’s script to the letter, and to maybe add a “Wow” before asking him not to comment on her body. It *should* sound like a personal rebuke in response to an absurdly rude personal comment.

    4. Claire*

      I don’t even know what that means. Is “turtle body” an actual way that people describe certain body types? I’m picturing a turtle and picturing a pregnant person and I genuinely don’t see any resemblance.

      1. Drag0nfly*

        I’ve seen people looking like turtles, well actually frogs, but from the *back.* Think wide pancake, with a flat backside, no hips, and skinny legs. But pregnant women don’t have that silhouette. Colleague is just *weird* and unpleasant, and there’s no reason for OP not to stand up to her.

      2. bubbleon*

        I’ve never heard it, although I wouldn’t mind it if it meant I was able to pull myself into a shell every once in a while.

      3. juliebulie*

        Oh, you know, like how pregnant women grow a great big shell… yeah no I don’t get it either! It’s rude AND confusing.

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

        It sounds like (old) slang to me, but then I’m a ESL person.

      5. nm*

        Right?? Like, pregnancy makes you look like like you’re wearing a hard shell on your back? This colleague is rude AND incomprehensible.

      6. Emi.*

        I’m guessing the idea is that her abdomen looks like the curve of a turtle’s shell? But I’ve never heard it anywhere else.

        1. WellRed*

          It’s such an odd comment and turtles shells are on their backs, so it’s even odder (unless OP is having a really odd pregnancy).

      7. LunaLena*

        My guess is that, if a pregnant woman were to lie down on her back, she would be kind of tortoise-shaped? Like, a round bulky shape on top and four small limbs + head protruding from under it? Still a crazy weird description, though. I’m pretty bad about putting my foot in my mouth but even I think comments like that belong firmly in “think it but don’t say it outloud” territory.

      8. Pennyworth*

        I assumed it meant that if you strapped a large turtle to your front the shell would be be the same shape as a pregnant belly.

    5. Rafflesia Reaper*

      Even if LW2 literally grew a hard shell, their colleague should not be making unsolicited comments about it.

    6. The Bimmer Guy*

      Right?! That is legitimately something a three year old would say, not knowing any better. What an unacceptably rude thing for a grown adult to say to another. I hope other people hear it and are equally appaled.

    7. Rose*

      An actual child. This literally sounds like something a four year old would say. I cannot even imagine how any adult human would think this was an appropriate thing to say ever, let alone at work. My jaw was on the floor.

  2. OrigCassandra*

    For the OP wishing to compliment a newly-hired colleague: When I see hiring announcements on Twitter, I’m pretty profligate about quote-tweeting to say “wow, great hire! best to {new hire handle} and {org handle}!” Best I can tell, no one’s ever blinked at this.

    1. Claire*

      It looks like the colleague hasn’t been hired yet, though–unless I’m reading things wrong, OP is not on the reference list, but wants to provide a reference to the colleague’s potential new boss.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Ah, my misread. In that case, yes, silence is the best policy unless/until approached.

    1. ...*

      Yup they allow a few free per month and the paywall is how writers get paid. Wild for a site where commenters consult each other on how to be paid fairly for their work assumes writers should not get paid a penny for the work they do!

      1. JSPA*

        For most of us, this complaint isn’t that complaint (which alison correctly removes).

        The article is not (in fact) paywalled, unless you’re over your limit. However, this particular link goes to the login–which is not a necessary part of using the site–giving the impression of a paywall for everyone.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Ah! That explains it. I knew they allowed some free articles, and I was sure I hadn’t read more than a few, so I was surprised when all of a sudden, Alison was behind the pay wall! But with the new link, it works just fine. Thanks!

  3. Faberge Otter*

    Oof, the first one is painful because this is exactly the kind of thought process the chronically ill are petrified of their managers having. “I can’t possibly take another sick day. She’s going to think I’m lazy. I’m going to get bad reviews. I’ve got to power through this. But I can’t. I just can’t.”

    I’m not sure how she can say the employee isn’t seeking treatment for her chronic condition while simultaneously saying she’s got doctor’s notes to cover 3 days off per month? I have scoliosis aggravated by working in an office environment; this includes fairly regular agonizing muscle spasms. In trying not to take off huge amounts of time, I always power through the pain in order to take off Mondays and Fridays. It just makes sense. I think the manager should drop the idea of “three-day weekends are code for party” and consider that a responsible employee is going to try to cram their recovery time onto weekends–three-day or four-day or not–rather than calling out in the middle of the week. The manager’s attitude really comes across as uncomfortably judgmental, especially when we as a society are trying to be more respectful and accommodating to invisible disabilities.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, without getting into the details, 3 days a month, some months she doesn’t need them… that’s basically any disease or condition, they don’t exactly give you a schedule!

      There are so many letters to Alison that someone might be “abusing” their medical leave and it’s definitely pointing to the problem not being the workers, but the culture that regards people having faliable bodies or minds as suspicious.

    2. Darsynia*

      I wonder if it would be possible for the first LW to reframe the ‘suspiciousness’ of the days being on Monday or Friday as the most logical days to take off for someone with a chronic condition? If they’re afflicted with something and can be lucky enough to get their required appointments on those days, it leads to a better rested employee if they’re able to combine those days off with a weekend, after all. If LW1 can reframe that suspicion to ‘my employee is trying to maximize the time they’re being given’ it might make them less inclined to see it in a negative light.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        This. Would it be better if employee comes in on monday and tuesday, starts working on a project and then whoops, out wednesday, thursday, need to reassign that. Ok, back on Friday, catch her up. Nope out on Monday…
        That would be far more disruptive to everyone.
        And if there is any chance you are indicating to the other staff, that you are fed up with employee using her FMLA, not seeking treatment (that you feel she should), or that others are being screwed by this, stop. “Can you contact Bob about the XYZ full stop…not “because she is out again.”

      2. de Pizan*

        The thing I wish managers would reframe in their minds–Monday and Friday are 40% of the work week….so yes, sick days will absolutely fall on either of those days, because those are the odds.
        I have chronic illnesses, and I am often out one of those days. For me it’s that I might push so hard to try to make it through the week, that once I get to Friday, I don’t have anything left. Or conversely, the two days off for the weekend weren’t enough to recover after being able to make it through the full previous week, so I have to take Monday off.

        1. Faberge Otter*

          Yes! And I wish the managers would accept that it’s really more convenient for someone to be ill on a Friday or Monday; ultimately it’s less disruptive, as Hey Karma Over Here described.

      3. Cj*

        The LW said that the employee refuses to seek treatment for it. Since she has certification from her doctor for FMLA, she must have hat least occasional appointments, but she shouldn’t have to take a full day for just an appointment and/or lab work.

        Allison maybe she needs the weekend, and perhaps that following Monday, to recover from her “treatments”, which she is not having based on what the LW says.

        1. Sciencer*

          LW has no real knowledge of what treatment the employee is or isn’t seeking, and it’s super inappropriate for her to even speculate about it. Also, you don’t have any way of knowing that a full day is unreasonable for “just” an appointment or lab work, which could involve hours of driving if it’s a specialist, and/or invasive procedures that leave the employee in pain or discomfort or emotional distress, and/or any number of other things that – again – are super inappropriate for the manager to speculate about.

        2. Nikki*

          Under FMLA, it doesn’t matter whether she “refuses to seek treatment” or not. It only requires that she have “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.” According to the LW, all the FMLA documentation is in order and the employee is sticking to her allocated number of days… which means the LW really has to let this go.

          For the record, I have disabilities, and I’m sure I could be labeled as “refusing to seek treatment” by so many people. Sometimes when someone suggests a treatment (e.g. “Can’t you treat that by changing your diet?”), I’ll politely say “Maybe, but I don’t want to do that” in order to shut down the line of questioning. (For example, I might think the dietary change is useless, but I don’t want to spend time arguing that with the person.) And I spend about as much time as this employee seeking medical care / treatment.

          We don’t know the specific situation with LW and the employee, and since FMLA is pretty clear on this and has explicitly set the amount of “reasonable” time, there’s really no point in speculating further about how much time is “reasonable”.

    3. Mama Bear*

      Agreed. Could be a lot of things, like getting through some weeks are hard so she takes a Friday, or maybe she’s changed her mind and is undergoing treatments that leave her wiped out afterward. But the thing is, she’s not required to disclose the blow by blow to OP. She has a doctor’s note. The FMLA has been approved. I’d focus on her performance and not her weekends.

      1. Trina*

        LW#1: Your employee is within the parameters set by her doctor for the number of occurrences of her chronic condition. If you question her about the time she uses, it could potetially be interpreted as attempting to intefere with her rights under the law. I would suggests that you meet with the person in your HR who handles leave administration and FMLA to learn more about what you as her manager should not do in connecion with her absences. If you don’t have an HR dept. or one with no one highly knowledgeable about FMLA , a meeting with an employment attorney with experience in FMLA matters would be well worth the cost. It is very easy to get yourself and your company into trouble in a situation like this. Note that the law allows a wronged employee to sue the individual manager involved as well as the company.

        1. Wheezy Weasel*

          I second this comment. My previous job was in FMLA compliance software and I picked up an entry level certification in Leave Management from the Disability Management Employer Coalition as part of the job requirement. This needs to be handled by someone skilled in FMLA to ensure your company is compliant.

    4. cody*

      “I can’t possibly take another sick day. She’s going to think I’m lazy. I’m going to get bad reviews. I’ve got to power through this. But I can’t. I just can’t.”

      Yup. This is very likely why she didn’t take days off during her 90-day trial period. And she was probably suffering because of it.

    5. WellRed*

      The employee can have a doctor’s note but still refuse to seek treatment, which is what the employee told her.

      1. Rainy*

        I mean, “admits she refuses to seek treatment” could be something like “the only possible treatment for my condition is a horrifically invasive surgery that works about 15% of the time, and the other 85% might leave me worse off” as easily as “this is a correctable issue that my employee just refuses to address because she’s a malingering asshole”. The LW implies the latter, but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

        For years I had a condition that wiped me out a few days a month and made it hard for me to stand, let alone work, and the remedy that multiple doctors kept pushing had no guarantee of working and, it later turned out, would probably have killed me. I “refused to seek treatment” by those metrics, and it saved my life.

        1. Ann Oni*

          I came here to say something similar – the available “treatment” could be worse than the symptoms. Or perhaps it’s cost prohibitive.

          1. Quill*

            Or the manager suggested something that they mistakenly thought was a treatment, and isn’t. Or is technically a treatment but can’t be done due to other factors. Or perhaps the “treatment” is something that would purely make it easier for other people, not make it easier for the patient. OP does not seem to have enough information on health in general to be making the call on whether their employee is actually seeking treatment.

          2. MsChanandlerBong*

            Yep. I have lupus, and I did amazingly well on CellCept…except that I ended up in the hospital multiple times with serious infections because it tanked my immune system. My OOP max was $7,900 a year at the time, and I decided that the benefit of the drug did not outweigh the financial and health consequences of taking it, so I stopped. I am technically “refusing treatment,” but that’s because the treatment is sometimes worse than the illness.

          3. CupcakeCounter*

            Yup. My SIL stopped treatment for her Crohn’s colitis because the medications are immune suppressors…which isn’t ideal during a pandemic. Luckily she is WFH for the most part and can deal with the symptoms much easier in private (plus can take more care with her food and self care and she was in a good place when everything went down). BIL cannot WFH so she decided some intestinal discomfort was the lesser of two evils.

          4. Quoth the Raven*

            Or she’s seeking a second opinion in relation to her treatment and hasn’t decided a course of action yet, or she’s just started treatment and doesn’t want to disclose in case it doesn’t work out.

          5. history geek*

            Yeah, the treatment for my back — is surgery right near my spin that won’t fix the problem but just help with some of the pain. Sorry not risking that just for a limited amount of pain relief.

            1. ItalianBunny*

              I have RA and one of the treatment proposed from my Dr during the hydroxychloroquine sulfate’s shortage that happened in the last months (hello, pandemic golden ticket.) was to get me on immunosuppressants (Methotrexate) and you’d bet i had said my Rheumatologist that i would’ve rather dealt with the pain than risking it with a pandemic going on, just sayin’.

        2. StrikingFalcon*

          Or she could have (correctly) said something like “there’s nothing the doctors can do” or “I’ve already tried everything.” Not everything is treatable. Not everything goes away no matter how much effort you put into it. The idea that “she’s not even trying to treat it” so often comes up because people who’ve never dealt with anything serious or chronic just don’t get this. I’ve been fortunate in that I have been able to seek treatment for my health problems, and the treatments worked (as much as they can), but that doesn’t mean my problems are gone. Most of the conditions I have have treatment standards like “50% of patients have at least a 50% reduction in symptoms.” I’ve been to so many doctors and spent thousands of dollars a year to get to the point where I am able to work… most days. That’s as good as it is going to get. Remission isn’t even a goal and a cure is just something to fantasize about.

          1. Arvolin*

            Actually, I figure maybe an 80% chance that an annoying medical condition would have gone away with surgery, and the surgery would have been quick and fully covered by insurance. It’s the 10% chance of dying from the surgery that made me not do it. As treatments go, this is statistically quite positive.

            1. StrikingFalcon*

              Yep, and you get to make that choice – it’s none of your manager’s business. The thing is, taking up to three days a month to rest *IS* treating her condition – with the rest her doctor feels is necessary. Treatments aren’t always about making things go away for ever. Sometimes they are about not making things worse.

          2. Anon for this*

            I had two conversations last week with different specialists for two different conditions who basically said “there is nothing more we can do for you.” I am still in pain. I still get wiped out. It’s apparently going to be like this for the rest of my life or until there are medical breakthroughs/new medications.

          3. char*

            Yup. People could probably say that I’m “refusing treatment”. The reality is, after years of going back and forth to various doctors and specialists and not ever even getting a firm diagnosis, let alone any treatment, I’ve mostly given up on trying to solve this. It just isn’t worth it to me to spend so much of my extremely limited energy looking for answers when past experience suggests that I’m probably not going to find any. (And even if, by some miracle, I did get an answer, there’s a good chance that the answer would be “it’s X, and there is no treatment beyond what you’re already doing to mitigate it”.)

        3. Elizabeth West*

          This is exactly what I was thinking when I read that sentence. Or, it’s something that would be really expensive even with insurance, like a medication with a high out-of-pocket cost, and it’s just not in her budget.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        Treatment is not always available or even the best choice for some diseases.

        Case in point. The only possible treatment for my chronic disease is to remove all cells from a residual gland from the body. To do that effectively you need an open-chest surgery, the heart and lungs are removed from their cavity and both have their surfaces scraped, and the chest cavity is “cleaned” completely. This procedure alleviates the symptoms in about 30-60%, but only works at all about 50% of the time, and about 30% there are complications.

        I reached a point where my quality of life was bad enough to try for it, and I was very fortunate in the results. But I completely understand not wanting to go though that.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          Wow, seems this posted after all. It took awhile, so I ended up writing again below with more deets. Apologies for the double post!

      3. Lady Meyneth*

        Sometimes treatment can be as bad as the disease, and not worth the risk.

        Case in point. The only possible long term treatment for my chronic disease is to remove all cells from a residual gland behind the heart. To do that effectively, you need to do an open-chest surgery, remove the heart and lungs from their cavities and scrape them (in case any cells are attached to them) and then “clean up” the cavity itself. This procedure can alleviate symptoms about 30-60%, but only works at all 50% of the time and can cause other complications, and symptoms are known to sometimes return after a few years. Since the patient is already in precarious health, the death rate from it is very high.

        I reached a point when my quality of life was low enough for me to try it, and I was *very* fortunate in the results (even though I lost half a lung from it). However I can absolutely understand anyone who chooses not to go through all that.

        1. yala*

          …i’m going to…scream for a bit. But I am VERY glad that that paid off for you (more or less. Half a lung is still not great, but if the results were worth it, than that’s good).

          But yeah. I know this is an older letter, so I hope OP maybe took a long look at their biases and how they might affect people with chronic conditions. “Treatable” isn’t always treatable.

      4. Observer*

        Or maybe the employee did seek treatment and finally settled on management because the doctors who could treat her didn’t take her seriously enough. It’s a very common problem, especially for women.

    6. StudentA*

      My goodness, yes.

      I wish people would understand this one thing: diseases affect people differently. Stop trying to slap on a rule. That’s why we have doctors. That’s what the doctors note is for. Nothing you wrote here is reason for speculation. What are you suspicious about? This sick person is out painting the town red? When the truth is they are probably recuperating from doing the simple things others get to do—without requiring a doctors note.

      Of course some people abuse sick leave. That’s going to happen. But let’s not punish an employee for taking the time her doctor is clearing for her because some people abuse doctors notes.

      By the way, doctors don’t arbitrarily choose three days off or whatever. The patient doesn’t choose. Otherwise, it would be fraudulent. If someone is better versed on this topic, correct me.

      1. schnauzerfan*

        Yes. We had an employee who called out every Thursday. And posted fB pictures of her Wednesday night dart tournament wins along with stories of pitchers of beer won… We felt we had good reason to question her use of sick leave. Something like the LW describes? Not so much.

      2. Lana Kane*

        I manage several employees with FMLA and I sometimes wonder at the way doctors come up withe the Estimated Frequency and Duration, which does seem arbitrary. I have had more than one employee be approved for so many days, that they’d be out most of the month (or in the case of one employee, all month) if they actually followed it. Which may accurately reflect that person’s situation – but at that point I feel like intermittent FMLA is not the best option. And I’m not sure those conversations are happening, which does make it *seem* somewhat arbitrary.

        1. LavaLamp*

          I can tell you how it works for me ,Lana. My doctor and I discuss how frequent my good and bad days are and come up with a number like say 2 days a month. Then we revisit if needed as we go along.

        2. WS*

          It can seem arbitrary because some doctors are arbitrary! And others are lazy and will do things like give everyone with X condition the same number of days regardless of how severe their case is. But it can also be because a lot of chronic conditions are fairly unpredictable. It would be much easier for everyone if you could plug in a list of test results and get an accurate estimate, but sadly we’re a long way away from that!

        3. Perbie*

          I try to ask pt how much they think will be helpful and put it down. It’s an impossible question to answer accurately most of the time. Best case scenario for many of my patients is they only need once a month off, worst case they will be unable to work at all. And it will probably change every few months.

    7. Zephy*

      I figured the employee was doing something along those lines, powering through as best she can and being strategic about taking time off to incorporate weekends. The “not seeking treatment” thing could also mean something like “this condition may be treatable with a type of intervention that the LW’s employee is not currently pursuing.” I wouldn’t blame someone for not wanting to have surgery if they don’t absolutely need it, especially right now. Or, maybe the LW only knows of one treatment for Condition X and asked if that’s what the employee is doing, employee said no because she’s taking a different approach but didn’t elaborate (because she doesn’t have to), and LW made an assumption. Obviously the employee has seen a medical professional about this, if only to get the FMLA documentation in order, but anything beyond that in regards to how the employee is managing her condition is no business of the LW’s or anyone else.

      1. Works in IT*

        I don’t take the “recommended” treatment for my severe allergies because the result of my experience of decades of living with the severe allergies has been that the recommended treatment just doesn’t work. I’d rather not spend money every month on medicines that might as well be sugar pills for all the benefit I get from them. Not everyone responds to every treatment equally well. Some respond well to a treatment, but the treatment comes with unpleasant side effects that are worse than the condition the treatment is meant to help with.

        1. allathian*

          Same here. Fortunately my seasonal pollen allergies are fairly mild, but I’d tolerate quite serious symptoms before medication. I’ve tried basically all of them, but most antihistamines leave me feeling exhausted, like I hadn’t slept for at least two nights in a row, and like I have a hangover that can linger for days. Fexofenadine leaves me without a filter. The one time I took it, my husband said something I no longer remember and that I’d normally just shrug off as unimportant. I started throwing stuff on the floor and slamming doors, and I was an inch from assaulting him by breaking a dinner plate over his head. Luckily I stopped before I got that far, but the astonished, half fearful look in his eyes is something I’ll never forget. Normally I’m not a violent person at all, so my reaction scared me.

          1. SweetestCin*

            Yup, Allegra is an ornery-maker.
            Zyrtec is a mandatory nap at 1:30 p.m. (that does not work well with my work day, btw), but taking it at night doesn’t do a danged thing to alleviate symptoms the next day.
            Benedryl is a sleeping pill
            Claritin is about the only thing I can tolerate.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I have multiple chronic conditions, some I take medications for…and one I don’t. Because the recommended meds for it would be one side effect too many for me (I’m on 3 meds that cause weight gain regardless of what I eat, I don’t want a fourth!).

        To a non medical person it would probably look like I’m just refusing treatment for the heck of it. Learnt the hard way that explaining medications to managers often leads to lectures on how I’m making excuses/should stop taking meds/try kale infused vegan yoga essential oils etc.

        1. history geek*

          When my PT had me start doing a few very spefic yoga moves to help strength the muscles around my damaged disc, I laughed because hey a treatment that is yoga (Along with pain medication, deep tissue work, and tens therapy). But like no one that isn’t a PT should ever be telling someone with any kind of condition that they should try anything especially Yoga where if you do a move wrong or the wrong types of moves you could hurt yourself more!

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I’ve got 3 fractured upper spinal vertebrae and one of my favourite things is laughing out loud at people who recommend I do some stretching or yoga or whatever!

            (I can handle swimming, sort of. My left leg doesn’t work very well so it’s a weird swimming stroke that my physio came up with. Gets me across the pool though. I am suffering a lot because all the pools are shut down at the moment. Loved that floating feeling)

      3. Trina*

        I am a retired PHR, have several years of direct FMLA administration, and was the SME on FML and vaction backup for five more years. If an employee is certified for intermittent FML for 3-4 days per month and takes 5 or more days in a month, the employer has the right to request anew certification (and should!) from the employee. In my experience, most employees whose conditions require an increased frequency of absence will comply with a recertification request. It was usually the ones abusing FMLA who fussed at recertification.

        One thing I observed was that it was nearly universal that doctors would not return employees to work Thanksgiving week or from mid-December to New Year’s. A lot of medical conditions and procedures have pretty standard recovery times (childbirth being a prominent example) and many initial certifications would state a range of recovery time (say 4 to 6 weeks). These times would also be reflected in the end date for disability approval. In the last quarter of the year, as I calculated the length of FMLA to be approved from the information on the certification form, I could predict the cases where employee would suddenly (just before a holiday) need an additional week or two for recovery. If back in October, their doctors had set a time frame that ended on, say, Dec. 20, all of a sudden on Dec.16, the employee would need another two weeks. Only a few times did an employee come back “on time”. most likely for financial reasons.

    8. Claire*

      I have a chronic condition that I choose not to seek treatment for, meaning that I am not getting surgical procedures that could potentially lessen it very much, but I have still been officially diagnosed, I do see a doctor sometimes to check in and have tests done, and I sometimes have flareups that require me to miss work. The employee might not be trying to “cure” her condition, but still be under observation.

    9. Jay*

      This. I don’t have a chronic illness. I’ve had an incredibly stressful five months (beyond the pandemic – intense personal stress) and, typically for me, now that the worst of the crisis is past I am falling apart emotionally and even somewhat physically. I’m taking four weeks of FMLA starting 9/8, arranged almost a month in advance. No one at work knows what’s been going on and I’d like to keep it that way – a big part of the reason I’m taking the leave is that I know my behavior will deteriorate if I don’t. I’m 60. This is not the first time in the past 30 years that I’ve had a life trauma which affected my health. I’ve always worked through it before, to my detriment, and this attitude is a big part of the reason why.

    10. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, and Fridays & Mondays are often less disruptive days to take off, at least at my office. Fewer meetings in general on those days, so if you have a chronic condition that needs rest, sticking out the mid-week days and resting on Fridays and/or Mondays seems the sensible thing to do.

    11. Another worker bee*

      Not to mention, it seems like OP has some conflicting complaints. She started off saying that the employee always takes her allotted days off and in then in the next sentence says there are stretches where she does not. Sounds like the employee is looked upon with suspicion either way!

      Not to mention, a lot of completely healthy people probably also disproportionately miss Mondays and Fridays – hard to hang on at the end of the week or get started with the week if you are getting sick.

      1. WellRed*

        I think by that, the OP wasn’t complaining that she didn’t take days off, rather was wondering, if the employee can go for three months without a day off, why can’t she do that more frequently.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          3 months is also a full season of the year. There are some problems that ease with environmental changes. (For exanple a severely asthmatic friend who loves winter because her allergens are gone for 3 months.)

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          That’s like wondering why, if someone occasionally wins twenty bucks on a scratch-off ticket, she can’t just do it more often and pay her rent.

      2. Brooke*

        Yeah I noticed that too. “This employee always takes all her FMLA days each month, which is a problem, except for months where she doesn’t use them, which makes me suspicious.”

        Chronically ill folks are constantly having to evaluate what the proper amount of “performing” illness for other people is so that they’ll believe they do in fact need their accommodations but don’t complain about the burden of them using the accommodations.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          It’s a problem when she takes her days, but it’s also a problem when she doesn’t take her days. What is she supposed to do, exactly?

          1. Observer*

            Stop taking days at all.

            For anyone who is reading this and nodded when reading the letter, this is a VERY bad response.

        2. Solana*

          I believe the going months without using thing. My chronic pain is lessened somewhat in summer, but late fall-winter is my hell season. I actually did a nice chunk of Christmas shopping yesterday.

          And I spend a lot of time deciding if I should take a sick day when feeling really bad, or save it when it’s a catastrophe. (Sometimes it comes down to whether I can safely drive or not.)

          1. Another worker bee*

            Even people without chronic illnesses tend to get sick more during the winter. Or have kids that get sick more during the school year, etc. It’s a very normal thing for someone to be healthy for a good stretch and then have a few bad months…and it’s very weird that OP doesn’t get that

      3. Koalafied*

        There’s a comic strip hole, I believe from Dilbert, where the boss wants to crack down on sick leave abuse because he ran the numbers and found 40% of sick days were taken on a Friday or Monday! (The joke of course being that Friday and Monday are 40% of the workweek.)

    12. blepkitty*

      Yep. And isn’t FMLA unpaid? She probably wants to work and make what money she can if she’s up to it.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        She may be able to take her PTO, if the employer provides it. FMLA the law doesn’t require the time to be paid, though.

        1. Not a Blossom*

          But if she often takes 3 days per month, she probably can’t swing all that as PTO (unless the company is very generous). So, it’s possible that there are times when it would be better for her to take off but she pushes through because she needs the money; it’s sad if that leads to suspicion.

          1. Lana Kane*

            Yes, this is a definite issue. You can go unpaid and have your job and benefits protected, but going unpaid is not an option for a lot of people.

          2. blepkitty*

            Yeah, that’s my thinking. 36 days/year is an unusually high amount of sick leave and pretty high for total PTO, too. And that’s assuming all of her PTO is going toward this one illness.

      2. Arvolin*

        FMLA doesn’t have to be paid. My employer paid me while on FMLA, which was very nice after my heart attack. The LW mentioned sick leave, so the odds are that the employee is getting paid.

    13. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh my god, the 90-day comment in the OP got to me. Can you imagine powering through a trial period in your new position without taking the sick time your body needs, only to be told “Aha! So you’ve been faking all along!”

      I, a basically healthy person, once worked an all-nighter a few years ago. Was in the office working on a project for 36 hours straight. I’d be considering quitting without anything new lined up, if my coworkers had turned around and told me that I’d just proven I could work 36 hours straight on a regular basis. It was a one-time thing that took a lot out of me physically. Not a proof of anything.

        1. LavaLamp*

          With a lot of chronic illnesses you don’t have a cure, you just treat the symptoms. I myself was on a intermittent FMLA and had jerk HR person try to tell me I was wrong for being out on Monday’s or Fridays. I may have lost it on her and sent her one of my FMLA provider documents with all the symptoms I go through so she’d have to feel bad about being a jerk. She left me alone after that, but my point is YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT. This is federally protected leave, so you have to just get over it. Also, I’d ask the best way to let other employees know theirs an accommodation in play so they stop resenting someone. I did that because otherwise people think you’re getting away with something. I’m not saying anyone has to disclose anything, but sometimes it’s better if you just say “I have a medical condition and am taking FMLA time”.

      1. Rose*

        Seriously!! People with OPs attitude are never as good at hiding it as they think they are. Im willing to bet this poor employee felt like she HAD to power through because of this BS, and now OP is punishing her for her hard work. I’m sure if she took her leave, she’s be looked down upon for that too.

      2. Perpal*

        I get what you’re saying but I’m not sure how helpful these kind of extreme examples are; here, it’s clear that under extremis one can work 36 out of 48 hrs (instead of a theoretically typical 16hrs out of 48), or over double the productivity (if work hours = same unit of work).
        But if we apply that to a 90 day probationary scenario, I think it’s clear how it might be problematic if someone furfilled their trial period and promptly said “now that the deal is sealed I can actually only work half that or less going forward”. Ideally* the company would have known that up front, agreed to it, and hired 2 people to do the job since that’s the amount of work they actually want done.
        *in a world where everyone has good intentions and are doing their best to be awesome

        Now in this archived letter we’re talking more like 10% or less loss of productivity (if this is a pure work-time based thing, which it isn’t necessarily) which isn’t so extreme it should give anyone major pause.

        To address OPs concern though that other employees are grumbling; why are they grumbling? OP says both that other employees have to pick up slack when they are out. So I would work on a better system of distributing work so people aren’t having to play catch up. If they sick leave system is “other people work extra to make up for it” then that really only works if everyone takes about the same amount of sick leave. Wes, other people will get grumpy if someone in the group needs more leave then average. So, find some other system. Maybe pay overtime when it happens so the extra work is attractive rather than onerous, maybe hire someone extra who has less work assigned but is specifically there to be on call for extra work (if sick leave is frequent enough), etc.

    14. Velawciraptor*

      Not to mention, what LW1 describes is nothing like what FMLA abuse looks like.

      The one time I’ve dealt with FMLA abuse, the employee was approved for 3-4 days every three months. They were taking a week a month. We still worked with them, begging them to get their paperwork updated so that the frequency of their absence was accounted for. They refused, throwing out excuse after excuse, and no call-no showed one time too many.

      But taking your leave as approved and not always needing it? That’s life with a chronic illness. As someone who was on the other side of the FMLA fence last year, trust me: sick people would rather be working than being sick. It’s beyond no fun. But, once I got off the oxygen, I certainly didn’t look sick. I certainly didn’t want to be sick. But working even 2 hours a day would have wiped me out.

      LW1–you’re not a doctor. Don’t presume to know more about your employee’s health than she and her doctor do.

    15. Dancing Otter*

      A relative had chemotherapy once a week. In order to have the weekend to recover, she scheduled the treatments for Fridays. Long weekends, yes, but in order to be able to work more days. Not malingering or abusing FMLA at all.

      When the doctor switched her to Wednesdays, and she needed to take Thursday and Friday off, too (exhausting her FMLA allowance), the company insisted she take leave of absence and stopped paying for her medical insurance. /Lovely/ people at that company. /s

      Maybe this employee IS seeking treatment, but doesn’t feel her boss needs the details. Medical discrimination is real.

    16. Snowy*

      I can’t even fault her using FMLA for long weekends. Sometimes, you need a longer stretch off to rest your body/anxiety/whatever, or to deal with treatments and therapies that may be difficult. She made it through 90 days because she didn’t want to risk losing her job or new position!

    17. Batgirl*

      Ugh, yes. This suspicion over the types of days used reminds me of how people react to ADHD people struggling to be punctual in the mornings. Once they master evening punctuality, everyone says “Look, they can do it, the fakers!” No, dipshit, mornings are just harder! (I say this as someone who’s achieved all-round punctuality; evenings still feel hard and mornings are absolute hell).
      Do people with great health and executive functions reeeaaalllly not have energy lags over the day or the week or the month or so many weeks after their last break? A time when hard stuff feels harder? Or do they think that because they have the resources and can get past it, everyone can? That’s not empathy.
      Also, it’s a nasty and gossipy little culture that’s been created in this workplace. How much work are the colleagues really doing if they have time to track a paltry three stray days a month to pout about? Is anyone even considering overall workflow? (No).
      I hate to point the finger at OP, but if there was less auto-suspicion in this workplace, they might realise they are being ridiculous. By less suspicious, I mean logical… like taking it as read that people will definitely get medical treatment, if it’s going to be good for them. Or by deciding whether you’re more mad at someone for being too sick (not being treated!) Or not sick enough (they are well sometimes!).
      Model a more logical, professional approach to boundaries and look at whether previously suspicious policy has come down hard on those gossipy employees. It might be possible to get them out of bad habits.

    18. Cj*

      You can have migraines, for instance, three days a month and the doctor might give you note for that because they happen that often, but that doesn’t mean she’d getting treatment for them.

      This actually just happened in my office, but with *much* more frequent migraines. The employee in question was out for a 1/2 day for day every month, and my employer didn’t have a problem with it. Then in July – Aug, she was only here 4 1/2 days in four weeks. She did go to her GP, but it obviously wasn’t helping, and she wouldn’t go to a neurologist. They fired her, more because she wouldn’t seek appropriate help than the fact she was gone.

      FYI: Our company is too small for FMLA, and even if we weren’t, she hadn’t worked here for a year.

      1. Canary*

        “They fired her, more because she wouldn’t seek appropriate help than the fact she was gone.”

        When it comes to health issues, companies should start with the assumption that they don’t know the whole story. Specialist treatment can be insanely expensive. It’s not just the doctor, but a whole host of diagnostic tests that come along with the visit. If your insurance isn’t that great, or your insurance is OK but your pay is low, you might hope the problem resolves on its own because you just can’t afford to explore the issue further. (That’s not even counting whether or not you can afford treatment.)

        Or, maybe you can afford going to a specialist, but you’re terrified of the possibility that it’s a symptom of something that will kill you, so you just can’t bring yourself to make that phone call to set up an appointment.

        Also, being in excruciating pain for days on end wears people down emotionally and physically, making it hard to organize scheduling and attending appointments.

        These are only some of the possible reasons someone with a chronic pain condition might struggle to explore another avenue in treatment, and each of them has different solutions. None of them involve assuming an employee is malingering because, IDK, they’re trying to take advantage of their employer or would rather suffer constant migraines than be pain-free.

    19. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “I’m not sure how she can say the employee isn’t seeking treatment for her chronic condition while simultaneously saying she’s got doctor’s notes to cover 3 days off per month? ”
      Yes I wondered this. I think perhaps what OP means is that the employee doesn’t have a particular, well-known allopathic treatment and is relying on alternative medicine. They clearly have a doctor treating them

  4. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP 5, even in companies with solid talent management initiatives, the employee has to be clear about his/her goals. You may think taking courses signals indicates your interest – and to a degree, it does! – but you need to have a straightforward talk with your boss. Let him/her know you are ready to take on a more senior role, and ask to be considered when the next one comes available…or if one is created.

    You might hear good news, that such a role will soon be available. And you might hear that you still need to hone certain skills before you can advance. Regardless, you owe it to yourself to be your own advocate, and to be clear about your goals and interests with your boss. Good luck!

    1. Office Plant*

      I second this. I got my last promotion, it was partly because I made it clear to my managers that I wanted to move from an hourly to a management role. They then helped with coaching and getting opportunities to go above and beyond my hourly role. When a management role opened, the multiple conversations and prep work meant my name was at the top of the list for the role, and I was ultimately the only one interviewed and hired for it.

      Strong performance is critical, but speaking up about what you want to do is essential as well.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed, if you haven’t yet, have a conversation with your boss about how you want to move up (if you have a specific role in mind, say that) and mention things you’ve done recently to ready yourself to move up and ask what else you need to do to get to the next level. I know it feels awkward to have these conversations, but yeah you almost always have to indicate interest in some way.

    3. SarahKay*

      Seconding the advice to speak up to your manager. I don’t want promotion, but was watching with envy as others in my team got given interesting one-off projects. So, come my annual review with my manager, I took opportunity to say that while I was very happy in my current role, I’d love to be considered for one of the projects. Three months later, one came up and was offered to me.
      I think I just about managed to avoid saying “Yes! Please!” before my manager even finished making the offer to me.
      Project was a success, and I’ve been given the option of two more since then, but I’m 99.99% sure the first project wouldn’t have been offered if I hadn’t asked – and this is despite the fact that I had consistently good annual reviews and have a good manager, who supports his team in gaining experience and moving on up.

  5. Amber Rose*

    We had some interviews scheduled on clean-up day last week. I am sorry to the people who came in their best to an interview panel of people in sweat pants, but it didn’t make sense to have them get dressed up just for half an hour or an hour. It’s not intended as disrespect and I don’t think it’s really that awkward. If you’re interviewing, you’re trying to make a good impression. The interviewer is as well to an extent, but not in the same ways.

    But as someone who has experienced this and really appreciated it: hiring managers, if you’re doing an interview on casual Friday and you are OK with it, please let your interviewee know. I’ve had a handful of interview where I was told not to dress up and I showed up in jeans and everything was great.

    Besides, it’s almost a kind of test. I feel like there’s a difference between someone who hears “don’t dress up” and shows up in a nice shirt and clean jeans, and someone who hears the same and shows up in flip flops and a dirty hoodie or something.

    1. TimeTravl_R*

      I would be hard pressed to wear jeans to an interview for the type of work I do, even if they said I could. I am still old school and only recently stopped wearing pantyhose in the summer! I might wear dress pants though instead of a skirt.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I have some plain black pants for this reason. They’re not super dressy but they are technically more formal than jeans. I keep some nice sweaters and blouses as well that are the same kind of “casual but not too casual” category.

        I wore jeans for this job because it’s manufacturing. Everything is dirty all the time.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I recently interviewed at the regional HQ and distribution center for a leadership role in corporate recruiting. It was an onsite meeting with the site HR team, and all safety precautions were in place. My potential boss, the CHRO, told me specifically to wear jeans because that facility is getting renovated and built out. Lots of dirt and dust, and not a single suit in sight.

        Even though I practically live in jeans, it felt odd to wear them to an interview. I wore dark-wash jeans and a blazer, and penny loafers, so I wasn’t too grungy. But still.

    2. Filosofickle*

      I honestly did not get where this question was coming from…why in the world would interviewees have to dress any nicer than what they’d normally be wearing that day at the office? If it meets the office standards, it’s appropriate and respectful. Then again, I work in a very casual industry where being overdressed / too conservative is the bigger risk so I realize my norms are different.

      Agree it’s nice if they give you a heads up if it’s particularly casual. I’ve never fully safe wearing jeans to a first interview even though there’s about a 90% chance the interviewees will be wearing denim.

      1. juliebulie*

        The question was much weirder than that. She wasn’t saying why don’t interviewees dress up; she was complaining that her interviewers didn’t dress up, or at least bring a change of clothes so they could dress up for HER interview.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I thought it was oddly presumptuous. I understand that interviews are a 2-way street, but to be put off that interviewers didn’t change their office dress code for you is a bit entitled and strange.

          1. iliketoknit*

            Yeah, I’m definitely not bringing a change of clothes and changing for someone else’s interview, and it does seem really strange to expect it. I work in a very formal industry, where full suits are often required; but if it’s a not-suit day, whatever is acceptable in my office is acceptable to interview someone (and that would be the case if that included jeans & a tee). It’s an interview, an inherently artificial situation. Frankly, as an applicant, I’d rather see what employees normally wear on the job than expect them dress up for me. And how successful someone is at their job is determined by what they do, not what they wear.

          2. Spencer Hastings*

            My employer’s casual Friday rule was that jeans/etc. were OK unless you were meeting with clients in the office (in pre-COVID times). I would guess that this applied to interviewees as well, but I don’t know for sure.

          3. LunaLena*

            I once was asked to be at a group interview, but since I’d been outside doing some jobs that entailed getting down in the dirt that day, I was wearing a somewhat dirty polo shirt and knee-length khaki shorts. The other interviewers were all in suits or at least dress pants and buttoned shirts. When we did introductions, I simply added “…and I apologize for my casual clothes, usually I dress up more but I was doing some dirty jobs outside today” and no more was said.

            But it still sounds weird to me to *expect* people to go to extra trouble just to dress up for interviewees and get upset that they didn’t.

      2. Absurda*

        Yeah, this question seemed to really out of touch, though it’s been a while since I was interviewing for a new job. Back in the early 2000’s I was interviewing at a tech company known for it’s casual culture and their in-house recruiter actually sent a form e-mail specifically stating that, despite it being a casual culture, interviewees were expected to wear a suit or something similar.

        To me, that was a given and the idea that the interviewers would have to similarly dress up would never have crossed my mind. Plus, as has been mentioned elsewhere, you can get an idea of how formal/casual the office culture is by how interviewers are dressed.

    3. Mama Bear*

      I would think of it this way – it is in my best interest to always dress nicely even if I know that on a regular day people wear jeans and sneakers. It’s a sign of respect. I knew in advance that my current company was heavy on the casual but I put on the suit anyway. If I am interviewing someone and there’s no reason not to I’ll at least put on slacks vs jeans that day, but that’s personal preference. Interviewee should see it as a glimpse into work culture (that they are not a part of yet).

    4. KayDeeAye*

      When I’ve participated in interviews that occur on casual Fridays, I always dress up a bit more than I would ordinarily. Not necessarily full-on business wear, but definitely the dressier side of business casual. It just doesn’t seem right to me that the poor interviewee has to sit there in a skirt and blazer or dress shirt and tie and there I am in my jeans and Star Trek Academy, Whatsamatta U or “Vote Cuthulhu 2020” T-shirt. But I wouldn’t call it a rule or anything. It’s just what I personally do.

      It’s also what my boss does…but then her idea of “casual” is a cotton rather than silk shirt, so I’m not sure she should be used as a reference.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Not disagreeing, but it’s so interesting to see different perspectives. People can have very different relationships to dress. I’m more like TimeTravl_R from above–I don’t consider it a burden to dress up. I enjoy it; it makes me feel confident and competent. Far from being a “poor interviewee” in a blazer, it’s my preferred way of interacting in such situations. My interviewer wearing jeans and a funny t-shirt wouldn’t make me feel strange in the least.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          It basically just doesn’t feel right to me that the interviewee goes to all this trouble if the only trouble I go to is making sure I’m wearing matching shoes. It’s…it’s so out of balance. There’s a significant imbalance between interviewee and interviewer anyway, and I don’t feel right *emphasizing* that imbalance.

          But yes, I would definitely wear a suit were I interviewing, casual Friday or not. That would be my personal preference and what I would feel most comfortable in. I’m not sure how I’d feel if the interviewer were full-on casual, though. I might not really notice unless they were flagrantly casual (e.g., a “Vote Cluthulhu 2020” t-shirt). But just ordinary slacks and a shirt or blouse probably wouldn’t register with me.

        2. iliketoknit*

          Yes, I agree; when I’m the applicant, I feel comfortable being dressed in what I consider appropriate interview gear (I’d probably feel weird trying to interview and maintain the right mindset if I were in jeans and a tee). But I don’t care in the slightest what anyone else wears because there isn’t any particular expectation that an interviewer looks a certain way – they just look however is appropriate for their office. I can understand dressing on the nicer side of standard when meeting someone you haven’t before (though I’ll confess I’ve got pretty lazy about this, people can take me as they find me), but I don’t think there’s anything specific about the interviewer/interviewee relationship that requires this.

        3. allathian*

          I really don’t like dressing up at all, honestly it does feel like a bit of a burden. I interviewed recently for a job I ultimately didn’t get. I did dress up a bit for the interview, simply because it’s the done thing, the interviewers were dressed more or less as I would have been on an ordinary day at the office. I did make a bit of a joke about feeling a bit overdressed when we were introducing ourselves and got a chuckle out of the panel. The interview was scheduled for two hours and ultimately it ran almost half an hour overtime, so at least I don’t think I spoiled my chances with that icebreaker.

    5. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I agree that it’s a test. My philosophy is to keep it simple – what you wear to an interview matters. Its one of those things that individually it won’t get you hired but it won’t get you not hired, it’s part of a package deal. That’s what helped me to stop agonizing over matte brown eyeshadow vs shimmery beige eyeshadow or try to spend meager funds on getting my nails done early on when I joined the working world.

      At my last company, someone showed up to an interview wearing jeans and spent an hour talking to their friend at the company. Their would-be boss didn’t care about that (which is totally valid, not disagreeing with him) and they must have been great b/c they were hired. A few weeks later, they fired for sending nudes (unsolicited) to coworkers and showed up to work drunk.

      Obviously not everyone who wears jeans to an interview will end up like that, but there were a few people who said “what did you expect from someone who wore jeans to a job interview?”

      1. Firecat*

        I’ve never wore makeup to an interview. All I do is add a suit jacket and some jewelry without any issues.

        As long as you are dressed business professional the rest should be about what makes you the most comfortable.

        I doubt anyone ever notices your nails were done professionally. The only time I noticed a candidates nails was when they were black with grime for an office job, coming from an office job. Even then if the candidate had been a mechanic or what not applying for their first office job I would have given them a pass.

    6. Summersun*

      I find it difficult enough because my role straddles worlds–I may be called into a C-suite meeting and to perform cycle testing on the factory floor in the same day. Figuring out how to match an interview suit with PPE footwear is not easy. If I was told to dress for casual day, I’d need to ask several follow-up questions, because you just squared my circle.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      My second interview at Exjob was with the two members of the team with whom I would be working most closely. The team lead reached out to me with directions and also told me I didn’t have to dress up and that I could wear jeans.

      Well, it was still an interview, so I wore very nice jeans, boots, and a dress shirt/blazer combo. They were in jeans and sweatshirts (it was January). She made a joke about it and we all laughed. I don’t regret going with a more polished look. I think I would have been very uncomfortable and not done as well in the interview if I had shown up in my US Figure Skating sweatshirt.

    8. Gumby*

      I may have once worked in a company where one of the teams had themed dress up days in the summer. As in “dress up like the running of the bulls” or “dress up like characters in this one show” or whatever. But at a certain point HR instituted guidance that dress up days should not overlap with interview days. I honestly don’t remember what dress up day was right before that policy came out but I am absolutely sure that it was in reaction to someone interviewing a candidate while in costume of some sort.

      (They didn’t always wear the outfits all day long if it wasn’t comfortable or wouldn’t work for some other reason. They were all *really* good at their jobs. This was pre-dot com bomb and tech companies were on the quirky side. More so than now.)

      1. allathian*

        Yikes, that sort of a job culture would have me running out the door so fast…
        Any costume that’s more than a hat or a headband is too much work for me.

  6. TimeTravl_R*

    My friend took off fridays for her chemo so she could minimize the impact to the office of her being sick after treatment. Please give the person the benefit of the doubt. If the doc filled out paperwork for FMLA 3 days a month, there is a reason for it.

    1. Helena*

      In this case, though, the manager knows that it’s not treatment on Fridays, because her employee disclosed that she’s not getting treatment at all. I was very confused by Alison’s answer of “maybe she’s seeking regular treatment on Fridays that are stretching into Monday” because the letter writer said outright that wasn’t the case. It’s the employee’s right to refuse treatment, of course, but I can see why the LW finds it strange that the employee’s condition strikes preferentially on Mondays and Fridays.

      1. Observer*

        As others pointed out in an earlier comment thread, “refuses to seek treatment” may not mean “refuses to get medical care”.

        1. Rose*

          The OP shouldnt assume he knows ANY details of his employees medical conditions, and we shouldn’t assume that he knows more than he says he does. It sounds like he had some very vague information. What was said, when it was said, how it was said are all omitted. If what he knew made him sound more credible or “proved” the employee was misusing her time, he prob would have elaborated.

          I had a boss like this (clearly distrustful that anyone might need regular sick leave, looking for signs of abuse that aren’t there). I was young and knew the best way to shut him up would be an illness he understood. I wasn’t going to tell him about about my actual gynecological issues so I hinted that it was something else without ever really lying. By the time I had been dealing with this for a few months, he clearly thought he had a very good sense of what was going on. He had absolutely no idea. I never directly lied, but he put me in a position where I felt like my job wouldn’t be safe unless is started disclosing medical details to “prove” my illness, and I reacted in kind.

          1. Turtlegirl*

            Oh yeah, the boss who demands to know what’s wrong with you and then gets mad when it’s not serious enough, love them.

      2. Rainy*

        I don’t think the LW is a reliable narrator about whether the employee is or is not getting treatment; read up the comments for reasons why.

        1. Helena*

          Maybe it doesn’t apply for these older letters, but generally we are supposed to believe the LW, right?

          1. Rainy*

            The LW is internally inconsistent.

            “My employee has a doctor’s note for intermittent FMLA”

            “My employee is not treating her condition”

            The employee is under medical care for a condition requiring intermittent leave.

      3. Faberge Otter*

        It’s not that a condition “strikes” on Mondays and Fridays. It’s that a conscientious employee suffering from a condition 24/7 still has to work for a living and wants to make things as little disruptive as possible. Would you prefer the person “nope out” on Wednesdays and Thursdays, leaving tasks and people hanging? So the scenario is quite possibly that this person powers through their condition every day they possibly can and takes off Friday to have 3 days to recoup, and sometimes needs 4 days and takes a Monday instead of coming in Monday and realizing they’ve got to take Tuesday.

        I think as a culture we just have to get away from this concept of “three day weekend = party.” And as for her coworkers who are jealous, well, when I had to arrange with my supervisor to take off a Friday and a Monday, it’s because I was lying on the floor outside my bedroom screaming and paralyzed from a muscle spasm — I’m sure 100% of people would rather be at work than doing that ;)

        1. cncx*

          yup, i remember someone saying something similar the first time this was posted. Sometimes people schedule stuff on Fridays and Mondays because they’re also trying to use their weekend to recover. Like what were they supposed to do, take off on Tuesday for the rest of the week?

          1. Rainy*

            When my optometrist opened back up, she was only working Mondays and Wednesdays for the first couple of months. I needed an appointment, and I was delivering a seminar on Wednesdays, so I had to take a Monday off for my appointment. Especially right now, there’s not a lot of flexibility for needed appointments.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        We don’t know what the employee’s medical issue is, nor do we have any idea of how it might treated. OP might not be privy to as much info as they think, the employee might be trying an alternative treatment rather than a conventional one, like osteopathy for example, which you sometimes need to recover from.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Trust your employees to manage their illnesses that they have a doctor’s note about and stop dwelling on “What if they’re faking tho! What if they’re taking advantage!” It’s very slim changes it’s true that they’re taking advantage, it’s 3 days a month and the doctor confirms it’s OK, just let the docs do their own jobs at that rate.

    They’re protected by the law and there’s no reason to sniff around looking for outs. As long as they have the proper documentation, leave, it, alone.

    1. designbot*

      This. And if people are getting hung up on it, ask what the real problem is there. Does someone feel that workloads are not evenly distributed? Or that their own comings and goings are policed too closely? I’d try to address the real root of the complainer’s problems.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Exactly. My response is “Why does her schedule bother you? Are you doing an unfair amount of work because of it?”

        Because if 3 days absence a month is causing excessive work for others, that’s saying you’re stretching the staff too thin.

        But I’m not here for just being shady because you’re mad someone’s getting “extra” time off. It’s because she’s got an illness, ffs! That says you’ve got toxic personalities among you more than anything. Don’t let them take that out on the sick person!

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. I’d much rather forego three days off and work a bit more than a coworker who’s dealing with a chronic illness and needs extra time off to do so.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah those who want three days off like this employee might not want the condition the days are meant to help her recover from.

  8. sometimeswhy*

    I find the “it’s not fair” so, SO exhausting. Even when it’s an obvious and simple thing for which I *can* give a detailed explanation, like someone leaves consistently before they do because they come in earlier (our schedules are not a mystery and somehow this is a regular thing we have to revisit).

    It’s beyond exhausting when it’s not something simple and obvious. Walking the line between “you realize there might be a reason” and by omission pointing out that there must be a reason and people making assumptions about abusing those processes makes steam come out of my ears.

    1. TimeTravl_R*

      I always want to say to the complainers: Worry about your own self! But that apparently is also frowned upon.

    2. Summersun*

      Crabs in a bucket mentality. This is always used to subtract, never to add. I can’t WFH because it isn’t fair to the guys on the manufacturing floor…fine, then why can’t I get in on their union and pension benefits? Oh, because you’re only willing to take things away from us.

    3. Rose*

      I always think of a grad school professor who gave us a take home test we had a night to do, the night before my grandmothers funeral. He told me he I couldn’t have an extension because it wouldn’t be fair to the other students. I told him I had to write a eulogy and fly accords the country that night, and he told me in the name of fairness I’d still have to pass it in the next day.

      Another student in the front row heard us and shouted out “we don’t care if she gets an extension.” I asked if anyone else had a funeral to go to the next day and a bunch of people yelled back no.

      Fair doesn’t mean holding everyone to the same standards all the time.

    4. Batgirl*

      I teach 12 and 13 year olds, so I hear this blanket approach to fairness all the time. They think fairness means identical treatment (although I have to say, they’re pretty accommodating of diagnosed conditions when people are frank). That’s fine if you’re very young and you haven’t figured out how to contextualise and differentiate yet. But if you’re a manager of adults, behaving personally put out and offended by a minor accommodation if it doesn’t affect the work is not going to cut it.

  9. Mannheim Steamroller*

    #1… [Meanwhile, if anyone’s schedule is causing problems for your work, you should come and talk to me so we can find solutions — not complain to each other.”]

    Agree! Make it entirely about work.

  10. Ground Control*

    I have several chronic health conditions that leave me generally fatigued even though they’re well managed. If I have a “busy” weekend (e.g., spend a few hours in the car for a day trip) there’s a good chance I’ll be exhausted on Monday, and if I have a particularly busy week (e.g., have more than one evening event) I’ll likely be exhausted on Friday. I avoid taking days off for this because I know how bad it looks, and I’ve learned to cut vacations a little short so I have a full day of recovery before going back to work because taking a sick day after a vacation looks even worse. I basically design my free time around making sure I’ll be 100% for the work week, which really sucks.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, you do all that, and do you get any recognition for it? And then the new kid won’t roll in on Monday because he was celebrating his first salary all weekend. Life is just not fair like that!

  11. CommanderBanana*

    The LW did say that her employee “refuses to seek treatment for it,” so I’m thinking that’s where part of the assumption is – that the LW isn’t actually using FMLA for treatment because she’s said that she won’t seek treatment for whatever chronic condition she told her boss she has.

    I mean, I’d err on the side of not assuming she’s abusing it, because it’s been my experience that doing that creates an environment where employees who legitimately need leave don’t take it, which just snowballs into a culture where no one feels comfortable taking time off and you WILL end up losing employees to burnout or just wanting to work someplace where they feel they can take the time they’ve earned.

    It’s a delicate line to walk, and I do think you need to address issues with her coworkers, but also take seriously that her absences are impacting their workload and that it may not be sustainable without some adjustments.

    Whatever you do, don’t do what my former boss did, which was let a new hire work from home when no one else was allowed to and lie about it, so we had no idea where our new coworker was.

    1. Zephy*

      I mentioned in another comment reply that the details of how the employee is managing her condition are not actually the LW’s business – I would wager that “not seeking treatment” is an assumption on the LW’s part, it doesn’t automatically mean the employee is somehow misusing her doctor-sanctioned 3 days off per month. LW might think “treatment” for Condition X is a particular surgery or medication, and when the employee said she wasn’t doing either of those, LW assumed those are the only ways to “treat” the condition and thus drew the incorrect conclusion that her employee was “not seeking treatment.”

      1. Amber Rose*

        This and also, particularly in the US, it may not be affordable to seek treatment. Or maybe there just isn’t much in the way of treatments. My dad has MS for example, there are medications and stuff but many of them aren’t effective or aren’t covered, so for the most part he manages it with diet and lifestyle changes.

        I also remember throwing a bottle of pills at a wall because literally anything up to and including death was preferable to the side effects.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          That’s a good point. Maybe there’s something the employee is doing to mitigate symptoms and it’s better for them to do that over a long weekend. Like Zephy said, it’s none of LW’s business!

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Totally agree! I have chronic depression and while I’m managing it in terms of medication and therapy, sometimes the best treatment is a day off to lie in bed and stare at the wall so I can be human for the rest of the week. I’m sure other people don’t consider that “treatment” as it’s not a doctor’s visit or a drug.

        I think what’s incumbent upon the LW is, as a manager, to work to make sure that the employee BOTH can take the time she needs AND to try to find a strategy so that it’s manageable for the rest of the office. The LW needs to work with her staff to figure out what that would look like, whether it’s reallocating work, more flexible office policies, temp help, whatever.

        1. designbot*

          I think it would also be helpful if LW separated herself from this information a bit. If they keep telling themselves ‘I don’t know this employee’s treatment plan, they’re working on that with their doctor.” maybe they’ll remember that that’s the case.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      On your first paragraph, LW1’s speculation points to her not having a rational basis for her assumptions. Not seeking treatment? What? Has she never paid attention to the commercials for pills that have horrible side effects?

      “May cause blindness. May cause suicidal thoughts. May cause death.”

      Sensible people evaluate their options and make trade-offs, and sensible people expect that thought process. There’s no reason for OP to think she’s qualified to judge if her employee has made the “correct” choice. If she had medical credentials she would have mentioned it. But she if had those credentials, she probably would have been humble enough to recognize that every case is different. OP, how rational is it to assume a person would *prefer* a chronic condition if it were treatable *without* horrible side effects? It’s not. Occam’s Razor.

      And yes, OP should be mindful of not creating a culture of suspicion and resentment. OP needs to look to herself on this, since her attitude to her employee is fertile ground for those particular seeds.

      1. Lady Heather*

        I have a thing that’s comparable to migraines in that it doesn’t bother me every day, can be extremely delibitating when it is bothering me, and the treatment/prophylaxis would need to be taken every day.
        The treatment has reversible side effects, has a fairly high chance at causing organ damage (high for a medicine that made it through approval processes) and has a 30% success rate.

        No thanks. I’ll pass.

        1. Bear Shark*

          My thing that has a similar set of conditions (flares up sometimes, can be debilitating when flaring, causes social issues when people are aware I have this thing) has a treatment that works extremely well for me, except after it was on the market for a while they discovered it was causing organ failure so most doctors won’t prescribe it anymore for that condition. Another treatment that is so-so for me is carcinogenic. I’ve refused to try the treatment that comes with a black box warning for suicide. So yeah, to the outside observer I look like I’m not treating it, or using inferior treatments.

      2. Quill*

        Yes, not to mention that there are plenty of pharmaceutical interventions where the current status of our knowledge is “they work a certain, but not majority amount, of the time for conditions XYZ but some people just don’t respond.”

      3. CommanderBanana*

        I didn’t say she was, I’m saying that I think LW’s knowledge that her employee is not seeking treatment for her chronic illness (and remember Alison’s rule that we take LWs at their word) may be leading her to assume that the employee is abusing FMLA because she’s not using that time for treatment as the LW understands it.

        There are many, many chronic illnesses where the only treatment may be just to take days off to rest or for pain management. I think the LW needs to focus on the part that IS their responsibility as a manager, which is finding a strategy that respects her employee’s right to take FMLA, respects their privacy, fosters an environment that’s not resentful of others’ needing to take time off for illness, and manages workloads.

        I have worked in several places where coworkers were out for chronic illnesses or family situations, and while I would never, ever begrudge someone taking the time they need (as a person with a chronic illness myself), I think the best thing managers can do if they are in a situation where a team member is likely to be taking time off regularly for the foreseeable future is to work with their team to manage their workload and adjust expectations.

        I have seen the resentment the LW describes in other workplaces, and it seems to happen when managers don’t accept the reality that a team member is going to be regularly absent and plan accordingly.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I’d also err on the side of they’re not abusing it.
      However, if this is going to be an ongoing situation and other workers are or will constantly be impacted by having to work late, and/or cannot take their own Sick or PTO time off, the workload does need to be addressed somehow.

      You’re right. It’s a delicate line to walk. You certainly want to be accommodating to those with chronic illnesses, but you also have to treat other employees fairly too.

    4. Lady Meyneth*

      Honestly I find it really hard to believe 3 missed days a month has such a huge impact in the coworkers’s workload unless everybody is already super overworked. In that case, I’d think the coworkers’ complaints are more about not being able to take their own time off due to their work load, and less about the one person that gets to leave. People in dysfunctional workplaces often turn against each other about the “unfairness” of someone having a slightly better situation, even through disability.

      As for the refusing treatment part, not everything can be effectively treated, and sometimes the risk is greater than any reward treatment could bring. Chronic diseases often have treatment options that make symptoms 50% better 50% of the time, and are also super dangerous/expensive/time consuming.

      1. Batgirl*

        I had the same thought: that the employees are actually complaining about a system which treats them so harshly you need a loophole to get fair treatment.
        I used to have a desk neighbour who was always complaining about the one parent on staff who got to leave to collect her kids when the rest of us were ordered to stay late: “I can’t exercise, I ďont cook any more! Do I need to have some kids before I can make a proper dinner?”
        She was not very pro-child, or pro-parents but it was the overall structure that highlighted to her what was so unfair. Bosses couldn’t deny our need for a home life if it meant that a kid wasn’t going to get picked up from school. The parent was punished in other ways for not staying late and funnily enough this didn’t make the others feel any better about fairness.

    5. Anon for this*

      “We don’t know what’s causing your back pain. So we could do selective spinal nerve root block. Or hey, I’m looking at you right now and you are very large breasted. Why don’t you get breast reduction surgery?” (PA at a neurologist’s office).

      I chose not to pursue either course of treatment proffered to me.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m actually fighting to try and get the reduction surgery (40h on a broken spine isn’t fun) but keep being fobbed off with your have to lose weight first’.

        But they’re happy to offer the spinal surgery that carries a real risk of me ending up paralysed from the neck down…

  12. DCompliance*

    I did work in a department where there was a FMLA abuse scandal. An employee was on her work phone telling people which doctor will put you on leave when you are not really sick and how she when jet skiing on FMLA days. The one good thing that came out of this, was that I learned that HR department will be happy to have private meeting with managers to ensure they are handling FMLA situations fairly, but also addressing concerns and questions.

  13. Lady Heather*

    Important to remember that “Refusing to seek treatment” can mean a lot of things.

    “The treatment would entail a keto diet. I’d rather have symptoms.”
    “The treatment would be too time-intensive or expensive. I can’t afford that/I don’t have anyone to look after the kids while I am in hospital.”
    “I’ve tried three treatments that didn’t work and I’m not willing to put in the time and energy for another treatment – none of which have a convincing success rate.”
    “I have terrible doctor/hospital phobia / a medical trauma. I’m happier with symptoms than with treatment.”
    “The treatment has risks/has side effects. I’m not willing to risk it.”

    Of course, “I’m sticking it to my employer!” is also an option, but not an especially realistic one – and I think that if your employer does have that motivation for not seeking treatment, that kind of behaviour would show up in far more areas than just the one that also happens to hurt her wallet.

    1. Zephy*

      Exactly! Or the LW could have assumed that the one treatment she’s aware of for Condition X is the only way to treat it, and when the employee said she wasn’t having that surgery/taking that medication/whatever, that must mean she’s not doing anything to treat her Condition X, which isn’t necessarily true. The employee doesn’t have to disclose the details of what she’s doing or not doing to manage her condition – she didn’t even have to disclose the condition.

      1. Lady Heather*

        That’s a good one – or even that the employee has two conditions and has only disclosed the less severe one that doesn’t need treatment at this time. I’ve definitely had a lot of persons assume that all my problems/appointments/adherances to social distancing are caused by my very visible disability, or by a disability/condition I once brought up in passing.

        And symptoms can be delibitating without having a clear cause.. which also makes treatment trying and difficult (and doctor’s visits basically a he said-she said of you saying “I have problems” and doctor saying “Computah says noooh/lab report says you don’t”)

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      Or “the treatment costs more than my entire salary” or “is not covered by the company’s lousy insurance.”

    3. EchoGirl*

      Or “there’s no currently accepted treatment and I’m not interested in being a guinea pig”. It may be that there is no proven treatment for her condition, or that she’s failed on the most common treatment(s), so “pursuing treatment” would mean experimental treatments at this point, which often means more risk and a lower chance of reward.

    4. fhgwhgads*

      See also: treatment for condition A (which causes the need for the 3 days a month) is readily available, very effective, few side effects, and cheap BUT you absolutely under no circumstances can take it if you have condition B. And you do also have condition B. You’ll probably die if you take condition A’s meds with condition B. No ethical, sane doctor would prescribe the A meds to you. So there is no treatment for you.

    5. Rose*

      For me it was this highly invasive surgery, which has life long lasting health effects, works 60% of the time, every time! And the condition will go away on its own almost 50% of the time. Thank god I waited; my doctors were pushing surgery hard.

      The other treatment available had horrible side effects that I just wasn’t up for. Again, my doctors were pushing me that feeling low to mid level bad every day for the rest of my life was worth getting rid of 3-6 awful day’s per month. It just wasn’t for me.

      I’d be so outraged if I found out my boss was making up some fantasy world where I was abusing FMLA based on some innocuous comment I made about not getting treatment. Treatment for many, many chronic conditions sucks.

      1. Quill*

        “We can move your foot bones around to fix this but it will take you three or more months to recover from that, also you’ll probably have your joints wear down way faster, like, needing a whole bunch more surgery before you’re 40.” – doctor discussing my chronic foot bone badness when I was 18

        Me: I’ll take the physical therapy, thanks.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      One doctor, who I filed a complaint against, labelled me ‘non compliant’ because I wanted a refill for my prescriptions and wouldn’t agree to her plan. Which was to stop all my medications and just force me to lose weight, she suggested stomach stapling.

      Err no. My weight isn’t causing my issues, if anything it’s the other way around.

      1. Lady Heather*

        Oh, that sucks.

        I haven’t faced weight discrimination in healthcare (haven’t been significantly overweight), but I follow a few disability rights bloggers who have.

        Weight has an impact on a lot of health things, and it’s fair to acknowledge that, but some doctors take it twelve steps too far. Being overweight is a chronic condition that can (maybe) be improved slowly over a long period of time. Too much body mass causes, say, apnea? Treat the apnea, mention that losing body weight may help. Person sure isn’t going to lose weight while they aren’t sleeping and are a) messing up their metabolism at night due to not sleeping and b) too tired during the day due to not having slept! Break the cycle, doctor!
        Heart attack? Weight is an useful factor in determining the amount of anaesthetic to use and shut up about it otherwise until the person is stable. Angina? Determine the cause and whether it’s dangerous before you decide the cure is to lose weight.
        Thing that has nothing to do with weight? Don’t suggest weight loss as the cure, unless that’s an actual evidence-based treatment for the Thing – and even then, explore treatments so the patient is comfortable/healthy until the weight is actually lost.

        And that’s not even going into the fact that losing weight is not an especially realistic goal for many people. Between ‘healthy food costs money’, ‘some people live in food deserts’, ‘some people have complicated psychologic relationships with food’, ‘some people are physically disabled’, and ‘the physiological science agrees that permanent significant weight loss is improbable’..

        (And, surprise surprise, obesity and malnourishment are not opposites ends of the spectrum – they are frequently comorbid, especially in obese people who are trying to lose weight.)

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “non- compliant”???? are you a person or a product with a Fairtrade label?
        Well done for filing that complaint. That doctor needs to remember she’s treating human beings. Otherwise she should have been a vet if she didn’t want to deal with people who have their own thoughts!

  14. HQetc*

    Re. interview clothes: I actually think in think in this case the “double standard” makes some sense. Both sides are trying to highlight their better attributes. The interviewee is saying “observe, I am capable of dressing appropriately for the given situation. You can send me to client meetings without fear.” The interviewer is saying “look, we have casual Fridays! They are nice and we won’t revoke them or make you bring a change of clothes for situations where convention doesn’t call for it, like interviews.” So, both sides are actually communicating something positive about what they bring to the table.

    1. Coco*

      I like this way of thinking as well.

      And I would much rather show up overdressed in a suit on a casual Friday than show up in business casual to a formal office.

      When I interviewed for where I work now, my interviewer wore a football jersey and jeans while I was in a suit. He took 1 look at me and said ‘nah man. We’re more casual than that.’ And I appreciated the candor and insight into the office mentality. I was also relieved cause I didn’t own a lot of suits.

      If an interviewee complained about what the interviewer wore I’d prob side eye them and think they are not a good culture fit. If hired, will they be the person who complains about fairness? Or be upset other people brought cheap a$$ rolls to the office potluck?

      1. Arvolin*

        In my field, suits have negative connotations. I always used to show up for the first interview in a suit, and look around the office so I could gauge what to wear for a second.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m glad someone came up with a nice way to put this! I like this layout.

      I come from a long line of only interviewing for jobs that are not even business-casual like ever, however we still have 99% of people show up in business attire for the interview process. We also don’t put that much stock in what you are wearing though, so it’s not really an issue on that side, I’ve hired literally visibly homeless people more than once.

    3. SarahKay*

      Yes, this! I had been sort of thinking something similar, but without the clarity that you’ve just given it.

    4. The Spinning Arrow*

      This was my first thought exactly! If I turn up to an interview and my interviewers are wearing jeans, I think, “Oh yay, I could wear jeans at least some of the time here!” I don’t think, “How dare they not dress up like I did?”

  15. Angie*

    Has LW never heard of flare ups? I just can’t with this person. Sometimes the “treatments” (especially for autimmune disorders) are more harmful than the disorder. You gonna be miserable either way and LW is NOT qualified to make this decision for the employee.

    1. juliebulie*

      In fact, I’m thinking that if the employee is using up all of her FMLA days, most likely she didn’t ask for enough and is sometimes working when she’s feeling lousy.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s what I was thinking. I was thinking 3 days is probably a bare minimum that at least make it semi manageable.

        I’ve known people who are actually severely disabled by their chronic illnesses but doctors are often conservative about just saying “yeah, you shouldn’t be working at all, you need to seek disability insurance.” because disability insurance comes with Medicaid and doctors don’t like dealing with truly disabled patients due to their bottom lines. So they’ll push you to your absolute breaking point at times before signing off that you’re truly unable to work at all in favor of quality of life.

  16. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing the lady using her FMLA leave has a chronic incurable illness. Chronic illnesses often wax and wane. There are many such illnesses like this that cause severe pain and fatigue, like systemic lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. People often have more than one chronic illness. There is no good treatment for many chronic illnesses. My wife lives with lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome, among other illnesses.

    As long as the sick lady is performing her job duties well, the manager should leave her alone.

    As for the rest of the team, the manager should make sure she doesn’t penalize anyone for being sick. She can also make sure to recognize the team for covering the sick lady’s work by giving them bonuses, extra time off, or whatever she is empowered to do. Any gossip needs to be firmly quashed.

  17. Lifelong student*

    I find the fact that the medical paperwork specifies 3 days a month rather unusual. Although I am not a medical person, I have been involved in documentation for FMLA- and it generally seems to limit what the employee can do- work so many hours a day or week, need release time for medical procedures so many times a week- or something lot less vague that needing 3 days off a month. I would be skeptical in this situation as well- even if I could not address the issue.

    1. Josephine Beth NotAmy*

      I have FMLA for my daughter, and the paperwork specifies a certain number of days per month that she is likely to need my support. It’s not always an exact science to know when she’ll have treatment dates, appointments, or just her need for a rest day, but we try to average it out because the forms specifically ask for that.

    2. AndreaC*

      It’s not suspicious. I’ve seen it many times for people with IBS, anxiety issues, cancer, anything with random flare-ups or taxing treatments, really.

    3. Just A Zebra*

      I have a chronic pain condition that affects my joints (and other stuff, but that’s besides the point). My FMLA paperwork allows me up to 20 billable hours/month to rest, get treatments, or go to routine appointments. I don’t find this unusual at all.

    4. Ground Control*

      I had to state a number of days I’d need off per month when I applied for FMLA when my dad was having chemo.

      1. LavaLamp*

        I used Intermittant FMLA and had a very similar set up to this letter. Not every condition is managed that way. Mine capped me at 45hrs a week (I could not work 50 hour weeks anymore, it was too much) and gave me 3 days a month to rest and manage my severe chronic pain.

    5. Rose*

      You’re not a medical professional. You haven’t heard of something that’s extremely common in FMLA paper work. But you’d be skeptical. Why? Why not just acknowledge to yourself that you don’t know very much about FMLA or chronic disease, and trust your employees to be adults?

    6. Allonge*

      I am also puzzled by this, it’s not something I had to deal with before. You know what that makes me? Lucky. Very very lucky.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, me too. But it could be something like getting a ketamine treatment once a week for depression. I know someone who worked 5 days out of every 10 because they had to go to hospital every other day for dialysis. The rest of that day they were exhausted but the next day was OK to work. Then they got a kidney transplant, were out for 3 months on sickness leave, and when they came back they were able to work every day. Shorter days at first, but now they’re basically working full-time. Luckily they were able to negotiate 100% WFH because they’re immunocompromised.

  18. Government Condition*

    Our computerized time sheet system flags the supervisor if a certain percentage of sick leave is used on Mondays and/or Fridays. That may seem reasonable, but you have to realize that those two days make up 40% of the work week. Also, it does not factor in holidays, so you can get away with abusing Tuesdays after Monday holidays. And since it’s based on percentage used, the year I was only sick for one day – a Monday – I got flagged because 100% of my sick leave usage was to extend a weekend. My supervisor knew it was ridiculous, but the Civil Service Department basically blew him off. Now, if I need a sick day on one of those days, I make sure to balance it off with another one midweek during the year to avoid the flag, which is definitely not what they intended.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Oh wow. Civil Service, you said? I can picture Sir Humphrey explaining the rationale of this to Minister Hacker.. probably something that ends with “Of course, it leads to civil servants taking days off that they aren’t sick to balance out the days they are, but that keeps employment rates up and the unions very happy, which allows us to get away with [x, y, z!]!”

  19. Oh No She Di'int*

    Re: #5, asking for a promotion: I agree generally with the answer given. However, I would add that just because a small company doesn’t have a clear path for advancement doesn’t mean there isn’t one. In my experience, small companies often change very radically, very quickly. Opportunities for advancement can emerge all the time for those who are attuned to them. One new client or product line could mean the whole company gets reconfigured. In other other words, sometimes you have options beyond staying in your same position or finding a job somewhere else.

  20. Can't Sit Still*

    OP 1, there are times when watchful waiting is a valid treatment, and the employee may not really want to discuss it. At the moment, I have intermittent FMLA which allows 2 incidents a month of 1 – 3 days each. Since I’ve been WFH full time, I rarely need to take any time, but if I had to be in the office, I would have already taken at least 4 days off this month. Also, FMLA is unpaid after I’ve exhausted my 60 hours of annual sick leave.

    There are times when the treatment may be as bad as the disease. My current medication cocktail could: make me go permanently blind without warning, cause violent digestive issues of all kinds (yes), cause major weight gain (yep), cause serious hair loss (I’ve lost about half of my hair, fortunately, I had lots of hair to begin with), cause psychiatric disturbances, i.e. depression, anxiety, violent fits of rage, suicidal behavior, etc., cause insomnia, cause dizziness, cause fatigue, and on and on and on.

    Some people can’t handle needles, so they can’t give themselves shots or get transfusions or can’t handle frequent blood tests. Sometimes you’ve tried everything and there’s nothing left to try, particularly with chronic diseases, and you’re just waiting for a promising clinical trial or a new treatment to be approved. Or you’re the wrong age (too old/too young) to be treated for whatever it is.

    There are all kinds of valid reasons why someone wouldn’t get treatment that aren’t anyone’s business and don’t invalidate their chronic disease and the necessity for time off.

  21. IsLeukemiaASideEffect*

    There are risks with almost every treatment, just listen to the side effects on any drug commercial. Sometimes you make the decision that, right now, living with the condition is a better choice than the available treatment options. It’s a very personal decision and not one the OP should be armchair quarterbacking.

  22. lb*

    Re: the FMLA letter… I think OP should reflect on their choice to ask if the employee is “abusing” their leave. Abuse (at least to me, and I feel like others would agree) indicates excess use of something. What I read in the letter is that she a) only takes what she’s allocated, and b) sometimes takes less. This feels like it has the same ableist roots as the attitude that if someone can ever not use a wheelchair, they must not really need it; it seems like the LW believes that if the employee can ever do without, the FMLA must not be “real.”

  23. Ellie*

    As someone who frequently is unable to work on a Monday or Friday due to a chronic condition, i appreciate your response.

    To managers who that are suspicious that it occurs up against a weekend: you are often right that it’s no a coincidence, but it’s often not because people are lying about being sick.

    In addition to what Alison said:
    – For conditions triggered by stress, the onset or end of the weekend can cause a flare up or episode. Stress relief can even be a trigger, another reason Fridays are common
    – If the person is ‘powering through’ a week, sometimes they run out of gas on day 5. They may have wanted to take, say, Wednesday, but pushed through and overdid it.
    – If they pushed to make it through Friday, they may be ‘paying’ for it on Monday as their recovery takes more than two days.

  24. ZeldaFitz*

    Re: LW1, she’s taking three days a month with a chronic illness, and that’s the big concern?? I wish Allison (and others!) would come down harder on managers like this.

    “I recently overheard other team members complaining about how she doesn’t get penalized for all her absences.” What kind of environment has this company created where you get penalized for taking three days a MONTH for sick leave? That’s remarkably little for someone dealing with a chronic illness.

    1. Lady Meyneth*

      Yep, definitely sounds like a bad place to be, where people are turning on the one they perceive as being treated more as a human being, because “unfair”!

      If 3 absences a month is causing a serious workload problem, that means everyone is overworked already. If it’s causing people to not be able take their own days off, that means the office is understaffed. If it’s not causing problems at all and people are complaining, that means the office has a culture of gossipy, interfering busybodies. However it is, OP needs to manage her team, not convince herself it’s the disabled person’s fault and she must be abusing her benefits.

    2. Lana Kane*

      So I’d like to push back on this being about company culture – it very well could be, but it’s not an absolute.

      I manage staff with and without FMLA, and I am exptremely proactive about suggesting people file for it, giving them all the info I’m responsible for, etc. I still get complaints about staff who do take it regularly. I manage it the same as Alison’s script to the OP, but I think that it’s a very real thing that people just get mad at this kind of stuff, and often it takes suddenly having a health issue for them to realize that there is more to people who take FMLA than meets the eye.

      1. ZeldaFitz*

        I think the difference is exactly what you described — what is management’s response? Ultimately, the standard that management sets is going to play a huge role in defining the company culture (ie, it’s not just something that exists in a vacuum and is unchangable). I’m glad that’s what you’re doing, I just wish this kind of attitude described in the letter was squashed a lot quicker and harsher — it’s really harmful!

  25. AndreaC*

    OP1: your employee has a doctor’s certification and is not exceeding the days listed within it. Do your due diligence and get recertification paperwork every 6 months to make sure nothing has changed, but you’ve asked an expert to attest to the medical leave, so trust the expert and shut down the co-workers’ gossip.

  26. Paris Geller*

    Letters like #1 are why I’m currently going back and forth and trying to figure out if seeing if I’m approved for FMLA is worth it. I had covid-19 last month and while I’m technically better, like many people I seem to be dealing with some longer term effects, mainly fatigue. I’ve been back for four weeks and for three out of those weeks, I had to take a morning off because I just couldn’t get out of bed. I’m afraid my co-workers will think I’m lazy no matter what I do, whether I get the leave approved or not.

    1. IrishEm*

      Do it, if you can. I have chronic fatigue (non-Covid related) and it SUUUUUUCKS.

      It will take a long time to get used to it, and being able to have flexi time or wfh or something will help so much.

      *jedi hugs if you want them*

  27. employment lawyah*

    is my employee is abusing her medical leave?
    Sure, maybe! Some people are going to abuse any policy, and perhaps this employee may be one of those people.

    Or not.

    Sure, folks who seem to have “convenient” leave can be abusing it. But there are plenty of reasons for M/F leave, like “I need a four day convalescent period every now and then, and it’s a lot more efficient to wrap it around the weekend.” Or, for that matter, “M/F are the days when my specialist is in the office.”

    Anyway you probably can’t do anything about it whatever the truth may be, because of the pros/cons. Even if you’re right you are unlikely to be able to prove it, and “best” case you fire a shirker at considerable expense; that isn’t much of a pro. But the risk of getting it wrong is huge both legally and ethically. So rather than concern yourself with policy abuse you may as well as well spend that mental energy learning to live with it. Certainly DO NOT do anything without talking to your lawyer!

    In any case, a local lawyer can tell you details like whether you can/should challenge the leave determination (very unlikely) and can also give you advice on how you can legally manage the other employees and whether you can say things like “it’s a medical issue,” or not (very useful.)

    Note, even if you do everything in the best of faith, that may not be enough. Depending on the details, you may or may not ALSO be obliged to actively protect your employee against the possibility of other employees treating her badly because of their perception that she is shirking/lying/faking. This type of “I didn’t know I could get sued for that!” risk is part of why I advise talking to a lawyer.

    1. WS*

      Or, for that matter, “M/F are the days when my specialist is in the office.”

      Yep. I am lucky to work in a field that has all kinds of weird hours so a Tuesday-Saturday week is my normal…and I seek out specialists who have office hours on Mondays. It doesn’t always work out, but if I was in an industry that only worked Monday-Friday 9-5 I would be taking a day off every two weeks at least. (Though at the moment I wouldn’t need much time because everyone’s using telehealth, hooray!)

  28. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – Everyone has commented on the fact that the employee is entitled to the time off, probably doing their very best to use that time off wisely, and likely pushed themselves beyond their endurance to complete the 90 day training period. You need to trust the person to manage their health and their job. I would focus on their performance – do they get their work done, is it good quality, etc., and leave it at that.

    WRT how to manage other employees’ complaints, I would avoid explicitly mentioning that some employees have medical conditions. To me, this smacks of outing that the employee has a serious medical issue, and that is not the business of their colleagues. I would ask them how this is affecting their own role and performance. If there are legitimate concerns, I would look for ways to mitigate those. Otherwise, I would tell the complaining employee that you are aware of their concern and that they need to trust that this is neither favoritism nor a lack of management. This is a confidential matter and not up for discussion. You expect them to treat their fellow worker with the same respect and consideration they would afford anyone else. Half-way intelligent people will read through the lines to understand that there is a legitimate reason for the situation.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Yep. At most, I tell people who complain that the employee’s absences are covered and that there’s nothing more I can legally or ethically discuss about someone’s attendance. And that I am showing that employee the same level of privacy I would show them. My HR has counseled me to never disclose that the absences are FMLA-protected, much less that they are health related. (And that’s something I would never have disclosed anyway, but I appreciate that it’s official HR guidance, should someone complain to them that I’m being too lenient on attendance or whatnot).

    2. Batgirl*

      We have a nosy co-worker who polices another co-workers chronic condition (but the incredible work she does? Blind to it) and I really appreciated the way our manager shut it down: “How is that any of your business? Your business is to get x project finished and y project started. You dont need anyone else’s help with those. Stop gossiping about colleagues and stay in your lane please”.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Had one who not only asked me constantly why exactly I’d been off work that time, but who also liked to monitor how many pills I took a day and kept saying things like ‘I’m concerned that’s too many, you’ll hurt yourself, I’ll tell our managers you’re taking too many drugs’

        Think our boss snarled at her in the end and said my GP and pharmacist were the only ones allowed to comment on my number of pills. I have, however, got very good at taking pills without people seeing it now!

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          ‘I’m concerned that’s too many, you’ll hurt yourself, I’ll tell our managers you’re taking too many drugs’

          Gosh, that was my first boss after college! At the time I was taking a lot of pills a day just to keep going (not even opiaces or controlled substances, just regular prescriptions), and my doc was actively scolding me for deciding to work at all and not resting, so that boss’ attitude almost made me give it up entirely. Plus there was a lot wrong with that company! Thankfully in this one instance HR actually took my side, and came down hard on my boss. She sulked for months though.

  29. IrishEm*

    LW1 reads like “I know my employee has a chronic illness and reasonable accommodations to make herself able to perform her job but I don’t want her to use those accommodations because people are grumpy about it.

    I am sick and tired (LOL) of people equating chronically ill people who can push through a certain amount of pain and fatigue and illness in special circumstances to meaning that we’re just not trying hard enough the rest of the time. That’s why LW’s employee has the arrangement with FMLA. You need to shut down the other employee grumbling and you need to stop letting those grumbles into your thinking. Your way of thinking is very unkind and probably goes against your local employment laws.

    Also, and maybe this is the three bulging discs in my spine talking, but if we ever invent sci-fi body-swap tech you should swap bodies with someone with a chronic illness for a month. Might give you a bit of an empathy boost. >:(

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I had a coworker who complained bitterly about how I got a free parking space in front of the building and he didn’t and it wasn’t fair…

      I offered to run him over with my car so he could get the same spinal injuries as me, then he’d get disabled parking! Strangely he never took me up on that offer.

  30. Lana Kane*

    Navigating the issue of employees who regularly use Mondays or Fridays for FMLA absences is tricky. I know that there are so many factors that can go into it – but the fact is, as a manager I am also human, and I’m going to notice patterns. And if that pattern shows someone taking off days that extend a weekend, it will ping my radar. And pinging my radar isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I have worked out solutions that have really benefitted staff in the long run – they just never thought to ask.

    I have had this happen before, and it’s happening with a staff member now, who calls out same-day on Fridays very often. How I am handling it, for them and for myself:

    –I always take into account non-FMLA attendance, and whether they are following the call-out rules. Our rules say that you need to call out at least an hour before your shift. If that is happening, that’s good. If it isn’t, I talk to that person and see what’s going on, to see if they need an accomodation for the late callouts. If they refuse an accomodation, then I do consider that an attendance issue.

    –I tell the employee that I have noticed the Friday pattern, and ask them if they need an accomodation because Fridays are worse for them. If they do, we proceed with that. If they don’t, I can’t count that as an attendance issue but it does, again, ping my radar to keep a closer eye on the situation.

    –I pay attention to performance. If their performace is good and no other rules are being broken, then to be honest, I live with it. Not only do I not have any other choice, but I have to have a certain level of trust in my staff that they are managing things appropriately. If performance is suffering then I definitely address it from that angle to, again, see if they need an accomodation. If they decline an accomodation then I do pursue performance issues.

    All of this hinges on offering accomodations – some I can do on my own, some need to go through our equity office (or in other areas may need to be vetted by HR). But a person’s response to an offer of accomodartion informs a lot of how I proceed.

    1. Observer*

      I totally don’t understand what you are saying. This person has FMLA leave – that’s the accommodation they need. What makes it legitimate to require an extra accommodation to allow them to use the that leave on Mon / Fri?

      Also, the fact that it pings your radar is NOT a good thing. The “solutions” you have worked out – ie requiring special accommodations to allow the person to actually use the accommodation they already have and which you are not legally allowed to interfere with! does NOT benefit the employee, unless you mean it keeps the employee from being illegally penalized for taking their legally protected leave.

      Given the amount of information provided here (and elsewhere), maybe you should rethink your reaction to your radar pinging. Having a lot of leave that winds up extending a weekend is generally not a sign of abuse for anyone with a chronic condition.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I’m sorry you disagree, but I’ve discussed this extensively with my HR and also our equity and inclusion department. Please see what I said about the Friday issue not being something I can technically do anything about, but I am in fact allowed to have a conversation with the employee about it. Because if it is a recurrent thing that impacts operations I am legally allowed to request an FMLA reconsideration. I have never done it and would only do that uder very specific circumstances, but it is an option I legally have.

        This isn’t also necessarily about abuse – it’s about business needs being impacted by nearly-weekly same day callouts. Proving abuse is exceedingly difficult. Even when I had an employee very blatantly abuse their FMLA (and while I won’t divulge much more than that, it was something I could technically prove) I didn’t pursue it because legally it’s very, very hard to successfully do.

        That it pings my radar helps me offer solutions to an employee so that operations are less affected, because it allows me to officially plan around those absences. For example, my every Friday employee shared that Fridays are particulary difficult for them (I did not ask why, which i CAN’T do, but I CAN have the conversation), so I’ve worked her schedule around that and now her absences are not a surprise that we have to scramble around. This has given them peace of mind, and the team she works in has more stability. It is clear to me that even with FMLA protectoin, some people get very nervous every time they have to call out. This particular person was experiencing anxiety around that, and our conversation was fruitful.

        As I said, this is a very tricky thing. There are things I am and am not allowed to do. However, FMLA does allow employers to consider business needs in some scenarios.

        Lastly, your tone is pretty aggressive for someone who must know that conversations are definitely more nuanced than a general overview given in an internet post. There is no way I would give specifics here, even anonymously. I get tired of the assumption of bad faith on so many posts that I’m not sure I’d want to post here anymore. I am sharing what has helped me and I know has helped my staff, hoping that it will help others navigate this because it IS tricky and is not black and white.

        1. ChiliBandit*

          I give you a ton of credit. You are navigating this admirably. Pinging your radar is a totally normal thing – as a manager, you’re supposed to notice trends and patterns.

          What’s harder to navigate while noticing the patterns, accommodating the yearly requests for FMLA for always different reasons, is doing this while the employee is a poor performer.

        2. Ellie*

          Question for you: if someone regularly called out on Wednesdays, would that also “ping your radar”? If not, why not?

          Your handling seems to be “hm, if this is going to be a regular thing, we need to figure out if it’s going to impact how we operate, and if so, how can we plan for that that?” which is a reasonable approach — and not what most managers say when they ask about Friday sick time (…like in this letter).

          When managers say things like “gee, people sure do call out more on Fridays….”, the implication is almost always “…because they just want to get out early” or something similar. Almost every time I’ve heard a manager make that comment, they have been *judging* people for using their sick days on Fridays, and follow it up with things like “it’s awfully coincidental that they always get sick on a Friday…just saying…” or “I approve it but…you have to wonder…”

          However, it sounds like your conversation was “OK, it WILL be a regular thing on Fridays—thanks for letting me know and I’ll plan around that” which to me is a good outcome. More predictability is almost always helpful.

          The problem is the context of prior managers (and coworkers) implying that they are lying or lazy for calling in sick on Fridays making it a fraught topic for anyone whose chronic condition manifests this way. From what I can tell, you are addressing it sensitively and for reasons actually related to operations.

          It’s still touching on a topic people get judged on their whole work (and sometimes school) life before they meet you, which makes it very fraught for them.

          1. Batgirl*

            If people are always calling out on Wednesday it makes sense to see if it’s a predictable thing that can be planned for. You don’t have to be suspicious and aggressive in order to sort out staff coverage.

            1. Ellie*

              Right, that’s exactly my point.

              They say Fridays draw attention — but what makes Fridays *actually* worth more attention than a pattern on a mid-week day? Both may be reasonable to ask about in the context of ‘hey, if this is going to be regular, can you let me know?’ because predictability is useful.

              If someone calling out regularly on Wednesdays *doesn’t* warrant a check-in, then why should Fridays? If it *does* warrant a check-in, why not say “repeated absences on the same day of the week ping my radar”?

    2. Karia*

      Fridays are often worse for people because they have spent the whole week holding themselves together.

  31. Observer*

    I don’t hold the leave against her professionally and do my best to evaluate her without considering that.

    If you were honestly not holding it against her, you would not have an issue evaluating her without considering it. The fact that you have not actually explicitly penalized her is a very low bar to clear.

    she admits she refuses to seek treatment for it.

    Which is to say that she’s not interested in explaining to you why your suggestions are not going to happen. She’s under a doctor’s care. Which, by definition means that she IS treating the condition. Just not the way YOU think she should be.

  32. I'm just here for the cats*

    I hate people like LW! As someone who looks healthy but has a medical condition, and who has family members who have had to fight for disability and have chronic issues this really ticks me off!
    Also, does anyone else feel that LW1’s statement of “refuses treatment” is odd. LW doesn’t know what the condition feels like and the treatment might be
    1. not covered by insurance or too expensive with insurance
    2. too invasive
    3. Might not work or make issue worse
    4. have horrible side affects
    5. a combination of the above

    Also, what does the LW even know about the condition. Lets say the employee said they have Fibromielgia. The LW might be ok well take Lyrica for it. and the employee is like I refuse Lyrica because of XYZ reason. But all LW hears is that she refused the treatment.

      1. Observer*

        It’s a harsh response to an extremely problematic issue.

        I would say that the OP’s accusations are far more harsh and far more problematic than this comment. Is it so hard to understand why people might say that they hate the kinds of people who put them and their families through the wringer for no good reason?

  33. Alanna*

    OP 1, your letter is the nightmare of every employee with a chronic illness. Chronic illness means you’re sick all the time, but it doesn’t mean you’re at the same level. There are good days, weeks, months, and bad ones. Please don’t second guess your employee. It’s not your job. She has FMLA, and she uses it. That’s it. If she’s otherwise a bad employee, handle that.

    I would have pushed my way through a 90 day promotion period with everything I have, and I don’t think that’s uncommon. You’re not her doctor, please don’t infer anything about her illness from her work. People who are sick still have to work, and we do the best we can. Three days a month may sound like a lot, but for many people who are chronically ill but still need to work, that’s hardly anything, and she is likely doing the best she can. (there is a huge canyon between “it’s extremely hard for me to work and live my life” and “I am eligible for disability”)

    If you are concerned about her, talk with her. Ask how she is managing. Is the FMLA working? Does she need more accommodations? It sounds like she’s an excellent employee, so if you’re only focusing on her absence, try focusing on what she’s accomplishing when she is there and how you can better support her.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Absolutely. I keep in touch with my staff on FMLA if I see them struggling. Addressing the struggles by working on accomodations can bring peace of mind to the employee and less volatility for their team. All in all, I have had a lot of success with that approach (and it makes me, as a person, feel better to lead that way and not with suspicion).

  34. Firefly*

    “she can miss up to three days a month; she always takes all of them.”
    “there have been stretches where she did not take any leave at all”

    So which is it?? You can’t be mad when she uses her leave and also mad when she doesn’t.

  35. Judy*

    “Abuse of intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off is frustratingly common, but employers need not tolerate it. If they have an honest belief or suspicion of abuse, that’s enough to take action against an employee, said Matt Morris, vice president of FMLASource, a ComPsych Corp. program in Chicago, at the 2018 Society for Human Resource Management Employment Law & Legislative Conference on March 13.

    The honest-belief defense goes back 20 years, added Dana Connell, an attorney with Littler in Chicago.

    Connell said signs of abuse include:

    An employee has frequent Monday and Friday absences.
    An employee’s request to take vacation is denied, then he or she takes FMLA time off.
    A co-worker anonymously or directly complains to the company about a worker’s abuse of FMLA leave.
    One of the advantages of the honest-belief doctrine is that it circumvents often ineffective and expensive FMLA mechanisms to challenge leave, such as recertifications and second or third opinions, Morris said.

    Full article:

  36. Shrugs*

    The whole not following treatment thing… Yikes, what an assumption. I would fall under that category I guess, because I have turned down using a prescription drug that can be very addictive because there is a long history of addiction and drug abuse in my family. That would be me “not accepting treatment” but it’s only one type of treatment. It’s not like “I have a broken arm and I refuse to get a cast.”

    1. Rainy*

      My first husband had severe and intractable chronic pain following a serious TBI, and his options were oxy, which he didn’t want to be on for a variety of reasons, including the liver damage and foggy head, or a med that didn’t work very well but didn’t fog him up as much, or gutting it out. His particular type of chronic pain was more bearable with large amounts of certain kinds of exercise, so he used a combination of the inadequate med, sustained exercise, and gutting it out.

      The irony is that he was “noncompliant” for not wanting to just take a shit-ton of oxy, but if he’d asked for the amount he needed to be pain-free, he would have been a drug-seeker. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    2. Karia*

      This. The classic treatment for me is a medication that everyone reacts differently to. For me, the side effects are intolerable. I use a ton of other (evidence based and medical) treatments. Just not that medication. I guess in his eyes I’d be ‘refusing treatment’ too.

  37. Karia*

    “ she admits she refuses to seek treatment for it”

    As someone with a chronic condition this immediately made my hackles go up. Because I do seek treatment for it, but the ‘classic’ treatment is a medication with varying side effects which for me are worse than the condition itself.

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