CEO is protecting a horrible employee, coworker on sick leave is playing tennis at work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Our CEO is protecting a horrible employee no one can stand

I was hired as a senior director three years ago with direct reports in 10 office locations in the U.S. and other countries. One is a contractor, John, who I later discovered fabricated his background and experience. John cannot seem to handle the simplest of tasks without someone on the team providing him with exact step-by-step instructions, and he still doesn’t comprehend well. After multiple talks, meetings, illustrations, notes, presentations, and guidance, John still cannot manage his tasks without hand-holding.

The entire team is so frustrated after nearly a year of tolerating his inability to complete tasks. Along with that, he has a nasty attitude towards his colleagues who ask him to manage something simple or a project with an immediate deadline. My CEO, who is a very fair and nice guy, decided to have John report to him temporarily to defuse things. Was everyone thrilled? At first yes, because everyone felt he would finally perform and manage his tasks. But John dismissed requests from his colleagues and gaslights them at every turn, because he feels untouchable now that he’s reporting to the CEO. Going to HR proved useless, and employees are stressed out over the CEO’s failure to see John’s incompetence and nasty attitude. In addition, John is unprofessional and has divulged giving work to friends outside the company to assist him with tasks, which is a violation of policy. The CEO knows about John’s behavior, but says other colleagues thinks he’s doing fine and he and HR have no complaints. John had several crying bouts with our CEO and is a pathological liar. Somehow our CEO fell for this. When our CEO travels, which is often, John’s demeanor changes from acting angelic to a nasty tyrant.

This has truly frustrated the team, and John doesn’t care since he knows he’s liked by the CEO and our HR business partner. How can we get our CEO to see that John is a total slacker, pathological liar, and sucking the life out of his colleagues? We have proven and provided details to our CEO to no avail. Nothing on John’s resume about his experience is lining up. Our CEO doesn’t seem to want to get rid of him, even though his contract is coming up in June for renewal.

If you’ve already laid out the case in detail to your CEO, including John’s lies about his background, I don’t know that there’s more you can do. It’s possible that if you can catch him in violation of a very clear black-and-white policy that your CEO cares about personally, that could do it … or you can try presenting a steady drumbeat of every problem John causes … but if your CEO already knows everything in your letter and doesn’t care, you might be out of options. In some companies, key people on your team could simply refuse to work with John and that would bring the problem to a head, but in others that would backfire on them, not John. If people the CEO values start leaving over it, that might finally get some traction … but even that might not.

I will say that, like yesterday’s letter-writer, it sounds like you let the problems with John continue way too long. If he was reporting to you for almost a year before he transferred to the CEO, ideally you would have acted to let him go much, much earlier. At this point, the reality is that it might be out of your hands.

2. Coworker on extended sick leave comes in to use our sports facility

I have a question about colleagues who are out on sick leave who continue to come on-site to use our employer’s sports facilities.

I work on a site that has a sports center attached to it; staff have to pay a monthly fee to join, like any gym membership. Recently my colleague, Delilah, who has been out for several months on extended sick leave, has been spotted coming in to play tennis over the lunch hour. The colleagues are unimpressed, which I can understand because since some of them are covering her workload, and are complaining behind her back, including to management. This could make it harder for Delilah when she comes back to work and rejoins her team.

But I can also understand that for this colleague, coming in to get some exercise and contact with other people might be beneficial to her recovery and overall well-being. Should someone say something to Delilah, and if so, what?

First, it’s totally possible for someone to legitimately need an extended sick leave but still be able to play tennis. It could even be something suggested by her doctor, for all we know! But not everyone understands that, which is why the optics of doing at it her workplace are not great. It’s unsurprising that people are talking about it.

Just on a human level, it would be a kindness for someone to point that out to Delilah … but if I were her manager, that’s not a conversation I’d go anywhere near because it could easily end up sounding discriminatory. (I would, though, try to shut down the complaints from other employees.)

3. Can I ask for a higher salary because I’ll need to buy a car?

I live in Los Angeles and have never owned a car in the ten years I’ve been here. Previously I have just avoided interviewing for jobs that would be too difficult to commute to, and it’s never been easier than in my remote positions for the last few years. I’m actively job hunting now and everywhere I’ve interviewed has had a hybrid in-office model, if not totally mandatory in-office.

I’m not opposed to finally taking the plunge and buying a car, but is it reasonable to negotiate that when the salaries are already listed in job postings? Interviews have all asked if I have a problem working in office and I always say it won’t be a problem without getting into the specifics, but I don’t know it’s reasonable to make a point out of asking higher than the listed salary range if they’re expecting a commute from me. I don’t want to become a non-option by being a squeaky wheel about this in interviews too early. When should I bring it up and is it even a useful bargaining tool in a city where everyone is expected to already own a car?

Yeah, needing to buy a car isn’t something you can include in your salary negotiation. Salaries are supposed to be based on market rate and what the job is worth to the employer, not on applicants’ personal expenses. You can factor it into your own thinking about what salary you’d need to take a particular job, but it shouldn’t be a point you raise when negotiating.

4. I was promised a three-month salary review but no one’s brought it up

I started a new job in January. In the final interview, they asked what salary I was looking for and I said X amount, which was genuinely the number I was hoping for. A few hours later, I was offered the job over the phone with pay of X amount + a few thousand. Great! I was also told they expected I would do really well at this company, and after three months, they could bump me up to X amount + 6,000. This number is far beyond what I thought I would be making at this stage in my career, although it is in the general range I’ve seen other people in my position at other companies making. I also have this in writing. Specifically, “We will review you in about three months to see about a bump.”

The three-month mark was in April, and no one has brought up a performance review. I feel very well liked and successful in this position, although I don’t have anything concrete to show for my time (which is very common in this position in this industry for this time frame). I would love more money! I feel okay right now, but more is always better. At what point do I bring this up, and what do I say? Does it matter that although I’ve received a lot of praise, I haven’t necessarily made the company X amount of dollars yet? I’m feeling slight imposter syndrome when it comes to asking for this amount of money.

They promised they’d review your salary in three months, and it’s been longer than three months. It’s completely reasonable to bring this up — in fact, if I were your manager and this had somehow slipped my mind, I’d be dismayed if I realized months later that you had never brought it up with me! You can just say this: “When I was hired, my offer letter said that after three months we’d look at bumping my salary to $X. Is that a conversation we can have now?”

Read an update to this letter

5. Asking a laid-off coworker for a reference

I’ve been looking for a new job for several months now, after our billionth reorg. It was slow going for a while, but I recently tweaked my resume and am getting a lot of traction. Phone screens are coming in, and I have two in person interviews next week.

While this was happening, my company had yet another reorg, this time with layoffs. The person I work most closely with was laid off. I was not. I would really like to ask him to be a reference when things progress that far, but I’m worried that it would be indelicate or rude to reach out when I know he’s struggling. What’s the etiquette around asking for references from a coworker who was just laid off?

It’s normally fine to do! If anything, he’s likely to appreciate that you could be a reference for him as well (or that you could end up in a job where you could potentially help with leads or contacts or so forth).

{ 288 comments… read them below }

  1. reg*

    reading the second letter was interesting for me because a doctor just told me to take several days off even though i feel *generally* okay. people lose the ability to do the specific tasks they were hired to for any number of valid reasons.

    1. Jackalope*

      Yes, and it’s possible that the issue could be something not related to tennis; for example, maybe she’s out due to mental health issues, or maybe it’s something that tennis can help with the recovery on. I know for myself I’ve often fallen into the pattern of assuming that if I’m not acutely sick (say with the flu) then I should be at work, but there are multiple things that could cause someone to be out for awhile that could still allow for a certain level of physical activity.

      1. Emmy*

        yeah I am currently out on FMLA for mental health. I’ve been worried I’d run into someone from work while I’m put having lunch after my intensive treatment program or at a social event. my providers have encouraged rest and social events to help with my condition, but when it’s not a visible injury it’s so easy for people to assume you’re just slacking. i’m mentally incapable of working right now but physically of course I look fine.

        1. Cathires*

          And they assume medical means physical. One time when I was out for an eating disorder I came back to my hometown but still had to go to daily treatment that was during work time. The rest of my day was completely open and I could go anywhere and appeared completely fine, especially because I was “normal weight” and no one would ever have suspected an ED of me. When I moved down to even less time it was important for me to be doing normal things to ease in and many were challenges for me! Eating out at a restaurant, going to the beach in a bathing suit. If someone had seem me they would have thought I was having a grand time! No, I was probably trying to not have a breakdown. Always assume you don’t know anything that isn’t supposed to be your business.

          1. Emmy*

            exactly! I hope you’re feeling much better now. my treatment is going to help me be more healthy as a coworker and just as a person, but when people can’t see your illness so many still don’t understand how severe it can be.

      2. Bit o' Brit*

        So much this, I burned out a few months ago and really didn’t take as much time off as I should have. Partly because it’s impossible to speak to a doctor these days, but mostly because I’m not physically ill and when there’s no external pressure I’m totally fine. There’s no easy barometer of “I’m no longer coughing, therefore I’m better now”.

      3. OP2*

        I agree completely that Delilah should be doing whatever physical activity best helps her recover, and I have a lot of sympathy for her. It’s only complicated because it’s in the workplace, which is where her tennis partners and sports membership are, and over lunch hour, the time when she would be able to find tennis partners (because they are working normal business hours and going back to work after).

        1. Harper the Other One*

          OP2, I’d see this as an opportunity to a) tackle the stigma a bit and b) reinforce to your staff that their wellness is important! What about having a response like this available when someone comments: “there are lots of reasons someone might be medically advised not to work but be able to participate in a sport for an hour or so – and it may even be medically recommended! That’s part of why the company offers the sports centre membership: to encourage employee wellness. Hopefully access to it helps Delilah’s recovery – and I hope that if you were ever in a position where you had to take leave, but where exercise and the chance to socialize would be helpful, you would use it too.”

        2. Earlk*

          If she’s paying for it it’s understandable she wouldn’t pay for another membership elsewhere.

          1. M2*

            Where I live there are plenty of places to play tennis and many with very low fees. If she’s paying for it freeze the subscription and go elsewhere. It’s not a good look to play with colleagues over lunch then leave while they go back and do work (and part of it your work).

            1. Colette*

              She may not live where you live. There may not be other options that work for her, and she may not be able to freeze the payments for the work gym.

              1. J!*

                And if the work gym is free as part of their employee perks, why should she have to start paying for a gym membership (in a gym big enough to have tennis facilities, which is not as common near where I live) when she may not be doing anything wrong?

                People need to mind their own business.

                1. J!*

                  Oh, I missed the part where people pay. Still, I wonder if it’s discounted compared to other gyms, or has resources that might not be available at the same price point?

                2. Lydia*

                  @J! If she works for Nike, not it is not discounted, although the campus gym is pretty amazing.

            2. EPLawyer*

              She has tennis partners at work too. She can’t jsut take them elsewhere.

              I differ with Alison only that it is a conversation the manager SHOULD be having — namely to the employees — people have different reasons for taking extended leave. While I know its hard to be doing her work, let’s understand that our colleague may need this tennis as part of her recovery. No one should mention this to her or inquire further. No one should treat her differently over this.

              Then as Alison said shut down the talk.

        3. M2*

          As someone with a family member currently out on FMLA this isn’t a good look. My family member can still do everyday things and doing physical activities is a huge thing helping with their recovery. But going to the office gym is sort of rubbing it in your colleagues faces.

          She should find a new place to play tennis. The fact she doesn’t realize this is not a good look would make me question her judgement in and outside the office.

          1. Molly Millions*

            To be fair, we don’t actually know that there is another place she can play tennis in her community, and if she’s going through a health crisis/possibly facing a longer period of being unable to work, she might not want to waste money on a second gym membership.

            No one goes on months of sick leave lightly, and many people on leave do feel bad about leaving their colleagues in the lurch and worry about what people may think. Delilah is likely well aware of the optics of tennis at work, so I can’t imagine she’d do it anyway if she had another good option.

          2. AlsoADHD*

            If someone was out on FMLA maternity leave out to care for family, I’d not think anything of them using the company gym. No one should be resentful anyone is out on leave—the problem here is if they have reason to resent due to the company being understaffed or poorly equipped to handle sick leaves etc. My initial thought was a mental health or caregiver leave (could be other medical not related to tennis, obviously, probably not maternity or they’d know that). I think it’s only a “bad look” by toxic (but common) societal standards.

            1. ferrina*

              I have a friend who is on intermittent FMLA while they transition their mom into a memory-care facility (the mom has Alzheimers). She is so stressed right now- I wish she’d take some time to play tennis and take care of herself!

              1. Harper the Other One*

                Please send your friend my thoughts. I have just been through the same with my dad, although I wasn’t able to take intermittent leave. It’s truly one of the hardest things I’ve done.

            2. Smithy*

              I totally agree with this, but as the OP is a colleague and not a manager – I do wonder if there’s a way to share this information in a way that’s caring/supportive?

              Essentially, a way that both helps Delilah still use the gym but also lead towards a more supportive return to the office. Like, if there are tennis partners who are open to taking an earlier or later lunch hour (i.e. 11am or 1pm), and it makes it a little less visible to coworkers who are currently overwhelmed and less inclined to be as empathetic as they should be.

              It’s not that Delilah shouldn’t be using the gym, but if there’s someone able to give her some insight to a bit of the reality in case those are adjustments that can be made – I do think it’s a kindness. Maybe that kind of adjustment truly isn’t possible for Delilah’s recovery/care schedule, but if it is and can help a return to work….

              1. Molly Millions*

                I think the risk to that is, the colleague doesn’t have any information about Delilah’s condition, and doesn’t have the context to know how this advice would be received. Maybe Delilah would appreciate a heads up that people are gossiping, but it’s also possible it could make her anxious or paranoid about being seen in public (which could end up making her health worse, if socialization and exercise is part of her recovery).

                I know the OP means well, but I think the best course of action is for everyone to mind their own business and assume Delilah is capable of managing her own reputation and health.

            3. MigraineMonth*

              Yeah, caretaker leave was one of the first options I thought of. A woman used to pay me to take her mother with Alzheimer’s out for lunch a couple of times a month to give her a much-needed break. I wonder if OP could bring up the possibility the next time they hear the badmouthing.

          3. Colette*

            Living your life is not rubbing it in your colleagues faces.

            Why is the onus on the person dealing with a serious medical issue instead of the jealous, petty coworkers?

            1. J!*

              Right?! Or the employer who doesn’t hire enough staff, if her absence is truly a burden.

              1. Rosemary*

                I don’t understand this mentality that comes up here a lot – that if co-workers have to take on more work because someone is out on leave, the workplace doesn’t hire enough staff. I work for a small business that does specialized work. If someone is out (whether vacation or sick leave or whatever) it inevitably means more work for the rest of us. When everyone is working, our staffing is fine. But when someone is out – of course their work is going to fall to someone else; we cannot be OVER staffed at all times just to cover when people are not out; it would not be sustainable financially (and might mean the rest of us would have to take lower pay). When someone is out on extended leave we do tend to hire more contractors/freelancers to pick up the slack – but there is still work that falls to the rest of us. So yes, if a co-worker was out on leave a showing up to play tennis next door every day – it is not a good look, even if it is totally acceptable and reasonable for them to be playing tennis during leave.

                1. PurpleShark*

                  I was thinking this too. In addition, if someone else on the team is sick then the burden is even greater.

                2. Rach*

                  That just means the company isn’t profitable enough to sufficiently staff to cover vacations and leave, which is still on the company and not on the people taking vacations and leave. I wouldn’t do it because people are judgemental but if a coworker was doing it, I’d defend them whenever it came up.

                3. Alanna*

                  I hear where you’re coming from — of course it’s not reasonable for someone to be sitting around waiting just in case someone is out sick. But companies should assume that people are going to use whatever benefits they offer or are legally required to provide (and that people are going to leave and it’ll take time to hire replacements), and ensure that they have enough people to support those inevitable occurrences.

                  My company has wonderfully generous parental and family leave benefits and I’m really proud that we do. But offering the benefits is only the first half the equation. Structuring your staff so that people can take that leave without overworking your remaining employees — or, from the company’s perspective, dramatically affecting productivity! — is also crucial.

                  This doesn’t have to look like redundancy in every job. It might mean that, sometimes, when no one is sick or on leave and every job is full, everyone’s at8 80% capacity — say, each manager could likely find time to manage one more full-time direct report than they have, or an individual contributor could pick up one aspect of a colleague’s job for a month or two without seriously affecting their other work. Of course people will still grumble and it’s not ideal to split up one person’s job among a bunch of people. But it means business can continue and workloads remain fairly reasonable.

                  If your staff is 100% at capacity when every job is filled, no one is sick, and no one is on leave, you aren’t staffing appropriately.

                4. FrivYeti*

                  To be blunt, yes, this means your company is understaffed, and if it’s not sustainable financially to have enough employees to cover a single person’s absence your company is probably not a sustainable business. Companies *should* be slightly overstaffed, or at the very least staffed to account for basic vacation and sick leave, if they want to be functional in the long term.

                  The idea that “everyone works at 100% and then if someone is out everyone pushes past 100%” is one that puts the onus on employees to slowly burn themselves out for the benefit of a company’s owners. This happens in two situations – either the owners are also slowly burning out, in which case the company is not sustainable, or the owners are trusting that they can replace employees as they burn out, in which case the company is not ethical.

                  There really isn’t a third option.

                5. SchuylerSeestra*

                  Agree! I feel like people who say this have never worked in a HR/Finance capacity. There isn’t always budget to hire an extra person. Even a temp. Companies still have to pay to utilize a staffing agency and it’s not cheap.

                  It’s especially hard in a shaky economic environment. A lot of companies are running lean right now.

                6. Nina*

                  It doesn’t necessarily apply to all industries, but I’ve worked in fields where coverage is essential (as in, there absolutely must be X minimum number of people on site at all times) and they set up their staffing so that if Jake was on vacation and Joe suddenly got sick, they’d still be fine. Yes, there might be tasks that need to get done but aren’t time-sensitive to the day that get slipped, and yes, when we’re fully staffed not everyone is going to be going flat-tack from 8 to 5, but that’s all part of the cost of doing business.

                  If your company’s workload is roughly 5.5 FTE, hire six people, not five. If it’s 5.5 FTE and you’re in a country whose laws penalize overtime or if the tasks absolutely must get done at a specific time, hire seven people.

                7. AlsoADHD*

                  Where I am, if there’s a known leave coming, we reduce nice to haves. We stay “over staffed” because that’s properly staffed for PTO in general (but we are generously given a lot of PTO to use). We do sometimes get freelancers/contractors for a long time leave or shift duties, but no one is worked beyond 40 hours/week over it or worked a lot. It might be slightly more so maybe less extra time for nice to have projects or personal development but not significantly except maybe slightly for managers that pick up the bulk of any extra routine duties that can’t be addressed. It’s not “over staffed” to have breathing room for people to be out.

        4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I was on extended sick leave at one point, mainly for mental health reasons, although I did also nearly die of thrombosis. The doctors were unanimous that I should exercise as much as possible: the phlebologist because it’s good for circulation, and the psychiatrist because exercise is good for mental health and “your eyes only ever light up when talking about swimming and cycling”.

          I remember reading an article saying they’d developed a treatment that would help lose weight, strengthen your whole body, firm up your muscles, boost your circulation, immune system, digestive system etc etc etc and asked “if they can sell it as pills would you try them?” Of course everyone will say yes, because who doesn’t want a body in good working order? Then they said “exercise does all this for you, so get out and get moving now!”

          Normally when you’re on sick leave here in France, you have to be at home at certain times of day, so that inspectors may come and check whether you’re actually sick. The psychiatrist ticked the box to say I was not required to stay at home because I needed to get out and about, staying at home was definitely too depressing for me.

          Delilah definitely needs to get out and about, whatever is wrong with her, she can benefit from playing tennis or whatever sport she enjoys. She has already paid to use the tennis courts at work, why should she have to pay to use another court just because her colleagues don’t understand? Best shut them down fast!

          1. Anon for this one*

            That “if they developed a pill” question is a bit unfair. For people who actually hate exercise, it’s more like “but you will lose half an hour of your life four days a week,” – exercise is not without cost. It’s worth it, but pretending like people just don’t know it’s beneficial doesn’t help. Dealing with old trauma from PE class in school is what it took for me to stop hating exercise.

            1. EchoGirl*

              I agree — the whole difference between the hypothetical pill and exercise is that taking a pill is quick and easy. It doesn’t require trying to carve out time in a busy schedule or scrounge up the executive function to commit to a plan (and of course both of those are that much harder if it’s something you’d REALLY rather not be doing to begin with), not to mention things like chronic pain and disability that can make it much more complicated than “just do it”. Like Anon for this one, I’m not saying the benefits don’t outweigh the costs in the long run, but coming at it in this kind of frankly condescending way isn’t likely to persuade the people they’re trying to reach.

              1. SarahKay*

                Agreed. I used to live 1.5 miles from work so would walk there and back – and usually very briskly in the morning because I stay in bed until the last possible minute, and then 30 seconds more.
                That gave me 45 minutes of exercise built into my day with no mental effort needed. (In fact one reason I chose not to own a car was because I knew I’d then stay in bed for another ten minutes, and no longer walk to work.)
                Now I’m 6 miles from work so need to catch a bus, and it’s actually taking a lot of mental effort to try and extend my walk to or from the bus stop to increase my exercise levels.

        5. Boof*

          If people are resentful because they feel they are doing double duty for months while she’s playing tennis, well I think the issue is that people are being asked to do double duty for months rather than that Delilah is playing tennis. Most people I imagine would be happy for her if they weren’t feeling the pinch by her not working. Maybe hire a temp or something???

          1. pope suburban*

            Yes, temp agencies are great for this. I got stuck temping for a long time after graduating from university, and I covered people’s medical leaves several times. There were a few jobs where colleagues still had to handle one or two specific tasks because of, say, certifications, but I was able to handle the bulk of the absent person’s work. There are also specialized agencies that can staff for people who need experience or licensure/credentials. Yes, the markup for temp agencies is insane, but it may well be worth it if it keeps your staff from burning out or keeps you from losing money on missed deadlines/opportunities.

          2. Momma Bear*

            While I agree the optics aren’t the best, a temp or an intern (it is summer now) might be a good short-term solution for things they can offload.

      4. kiki*

        Yeah, this is hard because the optics of this aren’t good because the tennis facility is at the office, but at the same time, there are all sorts of reasons somebody may not be able to work but could still play tennis. I know I had a pretty severe mental health episode and my recovery probably seemed more like a vacation to folks looking in– I was paddleboarding every day, reading, socializing with friends. But I was truly not in a place to be working AND those fun activities were essential to my recovery.

        1. Over Analyst*

          Yeah, plus exercise can be very helpful for mental health, and trying to find a new gym might be just too much to deal with on top of everything else you go through when having a bad mental health issue that would require extended leave. So I can see at least one case where it would make sense for her to come play tennis.
          Plus with extended medical leave, I would think there’s a doctor or something signing off on it, like most companies don’t just let you take off for months on the employee’s word. So I really don’t see how she’d be faking it.

      5. Cathires*

        I’ve only ever been on leave for mental health issues, so that makes sense to me.

      6. EngineerMom*

        This. My coworker is out on leave due to her husband’s mental health needs. She’s physically fine, and lives in my neighborhood, so I see her regularly out on walks.

        Those coworkers suck. If that woman was out on FMLA caring for a newborn, and playing tennis was her one non-kid break during the day, would they begrudge her that, too?

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I disagree about the coworkers sucking. They’re being asked to work harder because she’s out. A short explanation from Delilah, even if she’s not legally required to give one, would go a long way in helping the coworkers extend grace.

          In the perfect world Delilah could take whatever time she needed without saying a word about it to her coworkers. But that’s not how people and teams work. I’m not saying Delilah sucks, so I hope people don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.

          Management here sucks because they’re letting Delilah’s absence have a negative impact on her coworkers and not managing that situation appropriately.

          1. Fish*

            Yes. In my Delilah experience, management initially made it sound like like she was on vacation, then at most a short leave. I know it likely took that long to determine her issue wasn’t a simple one.

            In her position I would have said something to my covering colleagues myself. I did, when I had to take a medical leave shortly after returning from a staycation. A routine checkup during my staycation discovered the medical issue, which had to be dealt with asap.

          2. Despachito*

            This is what I think too.

            In a perfect world, Delilah would be a reliable, trustworthy person and her coworkers would know that, and would trust Delilah that whatever she is doing, she is doing for a good reason an in good faith, and there is no need to ask.

            However, we do not live in a perfect world, and we know that some people are honest and some are not, and if someone is not pulling their weight, it can be for a good reason, or the person can just be slacking.

            And I disagree that the coworkers should mind their business and that they suck because they question Delilah’s inability to work yet ability to play tennis, especially if they are required to work more to cover Delilah’s portion. I think they deserve to have some context, either from Delilah herself, or from the management. There is no need to reveal the exact cause of Delilah’s absence, just an acknowledgment that management knows about that and that there is a reason why they approve (without going into the specifics).

        2. NotRealAnonForThis*


          That they’re “stuck” covering her work is not her fault, its either the “company” or “management”.

        3. Boof*

          If the coworkers are being asked to do extra to cover, it’s easy to feel resentful. The problem is that they are being asked to do extra for months, IMHO.

          1. J!*

            That’s not their colleague’s fault, that’s their employer for not hiring enough people to cover the work that needs to be handled. Depending on the amount of time the person will be out (my FMLA leave a few years ago was three months!) they could hire a temp or find other ways to mitigate the workload. It’s not the fault of the person on leave for having a body and mind and life that’s affected by more than just work.

            1. PurpleShark*

              And if the work requires technical knowledge? or if another employee is out for having a new baby?

              1. DataSci*

                Hiring a temp doesn’t work (I’m always surprised at how many people suggest it other than for super entry level positions), but being adequately staffed in the first place and being willing to let low priority projects slip mean a good team can absorb a long-term absence without asking everyone to work late all the time.

        4. HannahS*

          I mean, yeah, probably. People can get pretty grumbly about covering mat leaves, especially if it appears that the woman is not sufficiently martyring herself.

          1. Always a Corncob*

            Seriously…this comes up all the time and the answer is yes, plenty of people do begrudge women having any maternity leave at all, even unpaid (like FMLA).

      7. Allornone*

        Yes. I had a mental health crisis very recently and the option of taking a leave of absence was presented to me by my grandboss. Ultimately, I arranged for other protective supports that allowed me to get sufficient help without taking time off of work, but had I taken the time off, and I really very nearly did, I’d hate for my coworkers to judge me for daring to exercise during that break, especially since exercise tends to be good at combating depressive symptoms.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Exactly – physical activity and getting outside is RECOMMENDED (in addition to other things, of course) for people dealing with mental health issues. Physical activity has positive effects on brain chemistry and vitamin D from sun exposure is also important to mental health.

      8. Totally Minnie*

        Even if it’s not a mental health condition, this could still be reasonable.

        A couple of years ago I had a serious back injury. For the first few weeks while I was being diagnosed I couldn’t do anything but lie down. But as soon as I got the first steroid injection to manage the pain and inflammation, the doctor told me to start adding physical activity. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to go back to work, but I was under a doctor’s orders to start getting regular exercise. I couldn’t have been playing tennis at the time, but I’m willing to bet there are injuries and illnesses where that could be possible, and could be a useful step in the patient’s recovery.

        Ultimately, OP needs to tell the rest of the staff to let this go. There are medical conditions that leave people unable to work that are helped by regular exercise, and their coworker’s specific medical condition is none of anyone else’s business.

        1. Jayem Griffin*

          Heck, I was out for a couple months after open-heart surgery, and it was maybe two weeks before my doctors were urging me to gradually escalate my physical activity. I took a lot of walks around the neighborhood, and there were plenty of other forms of low-impact exercise that would have been REALLY good for me (tai chi, water aerobics, exercise bike). I’m sure they would’ve been thrilled if I’d managed some low-key tennis matches.

          1. TeratomasAreWeird*

            I had “open” abdominal surgery to remove an 8lb ovarian tumor. That was in the afternoon. The nurses had me up and walking around (with assistance) that evening. Within a month, I was walking around the neighborhood every day and climbing the stairs up to my third-floor apartment. I probably looked like I was doing fine.

            Six weeks post surgery, I still couldn’t sit up or drive, which made doing my job very difficult.

            1. Dog momma*

              Tera, mine was 6 lbs. Hope you are doing well. Unfortunately, while I had fantastic medical care, nursing care was basically nonexistent. I got up and walked the halls 3-4 times a day the next day, bc if I didn’t, no one would have helped me. and I was supposed to be up with assistance. Multiple staff at the nursing station, I got water and pain meds , no shower, no clean sheets, nothing. Administration was notified once I felt somewhat better.
              retired ICU RN, 42 yrs in nursing.

        2. Quill*

          I can think of several, physical therapy related reasons that one might be encouraged to do an hour of tennis most days. Deliah could be building up stamina, working on hand-eye coordination, or she could be suffering from vertigo and playing a familiar sport is helping her brain adjust to long-term disruption to her balance.

          Heck, if tennis didn’t involve so much turning on a dime I would have tried it for my arthritic ankle: unfortunately sideways and rotational movement is not helpful for me but I can see it being good for building strength back up from a different injury.

      9. Selina Luna*

        I took yesterday off because my allergies destroyed my voice. I felt fine; I just couldn’t speak. This isn’t ideal when dealing with teenagers, so I stayed home and did many, many loads of laundry and two loads of dishes. I did a ton yesterday! And I didn’t say a word, so now I can speak (croakily) today.

    2. KateM*

      I, while being a teacher, lost ability to speak (new teacher, not used to that amount of talking, lost voice) for a couple of months. There was basically nothing to do except for waiting for it to recover. It felt really weird going on with my life outside school while being on extended sick leave.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, after I had my thyroid removed, I felt more or less fine, but couldn’t carry much in my left hand, speak for long periods of time without losing my voice or turn my head quickly. They didn’t affect my day-to-day life but did mean I needed a month off from teaching.

    3. Daisy*

      Yeah. I spent several years disabled from PTSD, and vigorous exercise was one of the only things that brought relief while I waited for the cumulative effect of the therapy to kick in.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I was thinking of a time when my mom had surgery. After a couple weeks of resting, she was encouraged to slowly increase physical activity to build up her strength. It started with short walks around the neighborhood and increased from there. My mom was retired at the time. But I can easily imagine someone being in a phase of recovery where half an hour of tennis is doable, but an entire day being on her feet in the office is not.

      1. on workplace culture*

        This is the example that needs to be stressed. Mental health is weirdly at the same time at the forefront of every-bodies mind and still stigmatized. But mental health difficulties by far aren’t the only conditions where one cannot work but exercise is encouraged. I have been working with a client with a very judgy work place culture that already struggled doing all the exercise without colleagues gossiping. And because of that gossipy culture she refrained from most socializing. Not only would the socializing have been beneficial to her neurological condition in itself, the resulting isolation created mental health problems that weren’t there before! And there are many conditions where sitting at home and doing nothing is at first detrimental to the original condition and next detrimental to the mental health. Someone needs to shut down that gossip if they want to avoid that people feel pressured to divulge privat medical info or be severely impacted in their road to recovery.

    5. Snow Globe*

      A rule I try to live by: when you don’t have complete information, try to assume the best of other people, not the worst. That’s the message I’d give to any co-workers who seem to be upset about Delilah.

    6. Quill*

      This. It’s very possible as well that an hour of tennis is a lot more manageable than 8 hours of work plus commute, even if it is a physical issue. The only reason it doesn’t look good to the rest of the employees is our cultural preconceptions that 1) everybody is always looking to avoid doing work and 2) the ability to do literally anything at all is taken as a sign that someone isn’t sick enough to need a break.

    7. I have RBF*

      Yeah, and whether it’s physical, mental, or caregiving for a family member, a person on leave could well be advised by their health professional to get exercise and socialization.

      While I tend to recover mostly at home, lots of people live alone and need to get out for a bit.

      Most medical professionals push exercise as a vital component of any recovery. A person might not be able to endure eight hours at a desk working, but an hour of tennis a day helps them to build back up to that. Physical therapy is just a lot of focused exercise.

      If I saw a coworker who was out on leave exercising/engaged in sports, I would make the assumption that they were specifically directed by their doctor to do so. It’s actually a common thing.

  2. KateM*

    LW#3 – even people who already own a car need to buy a new-to-them car occasionally.

    1. talos*

      Car ownership is expensive! It’s generally priced into salary, but if you’ve never bought a car you might not realize that.

      Seconding Alison that you shouldn’t bring it up, but should keep it in mind when deciding what salary to accept.

      However, it can be worth asking if the company subsidizes parking (pretty common) or toll passes (rare, but can happen). It’s the kind of thing I probably wouldn’t bring up in an interview but might see if I could find out about in a meet-the-team session or something. Same way you’d ask if the company does subsidized transit passes.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Some companies do and some do not. If they don’t, the LW needs to factor that in when thinking about a vehicle. I agree, though, that it should just be a datapoint for LW when negotiating salary, not something specifically asked for.

    2. Melissa*

      That’s a good point, actually! When interviewing, it wouldn’t be wise for me to bring up that I need a higher salary because my car has started to have problems and I think I”ll need buy a new (to me) one soon. This is really the same thing.

    3. Avocado Toast*

      I know someone who successfully negotiated a new car bonus with a new job but the circumstances were quite different. They lived downtown in a city with excellent public transportation where you did not need to have a car. Their previous job was also downtown. The new job was out in the suburbs and I think the new company was having trouble getting talented employees because of that. They were happy to pay a bonus for a new car if it means getting better talent.

      1. Boof*

        Interesting! The difference is though the car was kind of a work related expense, it sounds like, since the employee didn’t need a car with their old job (from what it sounds like) and it was necessary for the new one.

        1. Antilles*

          I would guess the real difference is the company’s desperation. If everything was the same but the company *wasn’t* having trouble getting talented employees, that probably would have been a much tougher negotiation.

        2. Annony*

          I think the key difference is that most candidates for the job Avocado Toast mentioned do not have a car. In the OP, most candidates do have a car. Generally, the company is not going to care if you needed one or not for your previous job. They care about whether they can expect to hire a competitive candidate without offerings a car.

        3. Paulina*

          OP3’s situation is similar in that way, but I think the distinction is how common each type of job is (whether there’s the need for a car to get there or not). In the example Avocado Toast gives, the job in the suburbs is rarer, and that company understands that they are asking employees to commute more than other jobs do. OP3 instead is finding that most available jobs require a commute.

          Bottom line is that a company may consider the cost of commuting if needed to hire competitively. In OP3’s situation it’s probably already factored into market salary.

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          That is pretty much exactly OP’s situation though?

          I think you could try asking for a bonus like that if you’re being somewhat heavily recruited but if they have a big pool of people who already have the ability to get to to the office without an increase in salary or bonus then you don’t have much leverage.

    4. kiki*

      Yeah, unless the job comes with a lot of driving involved outside of normal commuting, trying to discuss the cost of a car with the hiring manager during salary negotiation is going to come across as out of touch. That being said, having to buy a car in order to do this job is definitely something for LW to privately factor into what salary they’re willing to accept.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        In a previous job, I used my car often for work purposes. Because of that, I received a vehicle allowance as a part of my compensation package (in lieu of turning in mileage reimbursement). I needed to have a vehicle that was large enough to accommodate the use. For me, that was a full-size SUV. For some colleagues it was a full-size truck (they had different duties than I did, and they received a slightly higher allowance).

        Unless having a vehicle is a requirement, or having a specific type of vehicle, it really doesn’t belong in the conversation about compensation. I agree with you they would seem out of touch!

    5. JC*

      L3 #3, I feel you. I live in DC and my husband and I have one car between us. I drive to work and he takes public transit. He will occasionally look at jobs that would require a drive, and we need to weigh what that would be worth for us. We’d need to either buy a second car or I would have to take public transit to work. Taking transit to work is doable for me but would nearly double my commute time based on where I live/work, and having a second car would come with the expenses and would be a parking headache because we only have one off street parking spot.

      Even with that said, as a hiring manager, I would consider it very, very weird if someone tried to negotiate salary based on their need to buy a car to commute to the job. I would feel the same way about any kind of job-adjacent-yet-personal expense, like the need to buy dress clothes. Everyone else who works here had to pay these expenses at some point and they did not get extra salary because of it.

      1. The Rafters*

        I actually knew someone years ago who tried to use this tactic to be promoted to an existing opening in his field. It didn’t go his way and when he complained about it to his colleagues, they all told him it was no surprise b/c the tactic was odd.

    6. Student*

      I’d say one place I have seen people successfully negotiate a car-related job perk involved temporary (paid) summer intern jobs at a workplace in a fairly remote part of the country.

      The small city/large town that we worked in absolutely required a car. Public transit was extremely limited and not practical for commuting to our location. If you managed to live somewhere that would allow you to get to work daily without a car, then you also lived somewhere without ready access to food – all the grocery stores and food services in town were quite far away from our workplace.

      So, sometimes our summer interns successfully negotiated for the job to pay for a car lease or a long-term car rental. Many of the interns came from cities where they didn’t need to own a car, and it wasn’t realistic to expect them to buy one for the sake of an inherently temporary and low-paying job. Those who had a car of their own were not coming from someplace where it made sense to bring the car with them to the internship – they were often coming from ~1000+ miles away. Some of the other employers in town would let their interns borrow a company vehicle for the summer.

      It was a situation where companies would do this regularly, because otherwise the summer interns would come to town and immediately get stuck unable to reach work, or just wouldn’t come out at all, routinely. Either the company paid the extra expense, or we wouldn’t have cheap summer intern labor.

    7. Parenthesis Guy*

      You would try to negotiate based on the fact that you’re moving from remote to onsite. Realistically, you’d probably say something about how your benefits were better at the last place, so you want an extra $5k to make up for it.

    8. Lauren*

      Years ago, jobs in NYC would worry about not giving enough salary to people who weren’t from there or knew how expensive it was to live there. General concern that too many people left immediately to get higher paying gigs was a worry for something like 80k even 20 years ago. I remember being floored when a friends sister was moving there and was like – who does that? She said no the salary was fine, but she could have easily asked for anything more and probably gotten it. That doesn’t exist now. You have your range and they will sometimes only give the minimum.

  3. DEJ*

    OP4, my boss did the same thing, said we’d review salary in a few months and forgot. I brought it up in the exact same way that Alison suggested here, with the addition of ‘if we are unable to do that now, what would you like to see from me to reach that point?’ My boss was extremely apologetic, thanked me for bringing it up and increased me promptly. Speak up! :-)

    1. Skippy*

      Unfortunately, both jobs where I was supposed to get a salary review after X months just gave me vague “we’re not hung to make any adjustments at this time” brush-offs. I hope this isn’t your experience! But if it comes up for me again, I’m going to ask for some clear goals and benchmarks that the review will be based on.

      1. MK*

        Well, salary review in 3 months doesn’t mean raise in 3 months, it just means there will be a conversation about it. The safest thing to do is assume the salary won’t change, and only take the job if you are ok with that. Or if there are specific parameters, like if you reach X goals, you will get Z raise.

        1. blerg*

          And it seems that Skippy’s complaint was that the promised conversation didn’t happen.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I got “omg we completely forgot we said that, let’s make it happen”. Definitely worth asking – though I’d think about asking for a review of how things are going first and bringing up the salary bump then. I don’t think it sounds as certain as Alison does.

    3. EPLawyer*

      It’s highly likely it just slipped the boss; mind. This one might be just busy, not malice. So OP approach it in that light.

  4. Observer*

    #2 – Coworker on extended leave using the sports facility.

    If you are a manager, you really, really need to shut the gossip down. And if you are not a manager, you need to not participate. If you could push back a bit, that would be good, but I get that that’s not always practical.

    Only say something to Delilah if:
    1. You are either her supervisor or you have a good relationship already
    2. You are clear in your own head that there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with what she’s doing, and it is absolutely not an indication that she shouldn’t be on extended leave.

    Otherwise this is not going to come off as concern, but as concern trolling.

    I’m unimpressed that management has not been shutting down the complaints about her using the sym. But I’m also unimpressed that it seems like someone is out on extended leave, but management is not doing anything to manage the hole in staffing. That’s a genuine burden on people, but it’s Delilah who is at fault here. It’s management.

    1. Happy*

      It’s interesting that you list Delilah’s supervisor as a person who might want to speak with her since Alison explicitly said that she wouldn’t talk to her about it under those circumstances. Are you not worried about potentially seeming discriminatory?

      1. Cathires*

        Yeah, I would err that it should be a coworker with a good relationship and NOT the supervisor. The supervisor should shut it down though.

      2. Observer*

        I don’t know if I agree, but I can see that point of view. But a coworker can’t really say anything unless they already have a good working relationship.

        Are you not worried about potentially seeming discriminatory?

        It depends on what the conversation is what their prior relationship is. Also, conversation or not, what the manager (and management in general) does is going to be a lot more important than a warning that people are talking. Of course, that would require a manager to be crystal clear that they are ok with what Delilah is doing, that they will not treat her differently because of it, and that they shut down the gossip when they hear it.

        If the manager cannot say those things honestly, or they don’t have the credibility to be believed, then you are right that they should not say anything.

      3. Lana Kane*

        The supervisor should absolutely not be talking to Delilah about this – it can and will be seen as tampering with her FMLA rights. Coworkers should also not be encouraged to tell her this either, as that could be construed as the company condoning it – especially if they know this is happening and don’t do something about it.

        Staff who complain or are overheard gossiping about it should be told that this needs to stop. Everyone deserves privacy around their medical issues, and they have no way of knowing that this isn’t part of her treatment plan. One day this could be any one of us in the same boat.

        I had several direct reports who had FMLA, and this was a common issue. “So and so is on leave but I saw her posting from the beach on Instagram. “I saw her walking around downtown” (which is where we worked). I had this conversation a lot. I was sometimes able to secure coverage, but it was hard when it was intermittent FMLA because that’s not pre-planned.

        1. Observer*

          Staff who complain or are overheard gossiping about it should be told that this needs to stop. Everyone deserves privacy around their medical issues, and they have no way of knowing that this isn’t part of her treatment plan. One day this could be any one of us in the same boat.

          This is 100% true.

        2. I have RBF*

          … they have no way of knowing that this isn’t part of her treatment plan.


          I would actually assume that it was part of her treatment plan, if it was a medical (physical or mental, it’s still medical) issue that she was out for. If she was out for caregiving I would assume this was her respite time to get out and exercise.

          Doctors push exercise, especially for recovering from surgery.

          Most times when I’ve had surgery they’ve been “Okay, time to get up and move” within three days of the operation. I may have needed a lot of help to do so, but I was still getting out of bed and moving. My recovery time off of work still would be weeks or even months, but I was expected to get exercise that didn’t worsen the healing.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      On some level the complaints are valid, so I’m not sure that they should be “shut down”, but agree management should have tackled the coverage of work aspect a bit more usefully. I wonder if what’s happened is she was initially out for a fairly short time so it was just accepted as a temporary situation, but then the leave was extended so now the situation has dragged on but because they didn’t know upfront that she would be out for 6 months or whatever, they didn’t arrange proper cover.

      I know people will disagree with me on this, but it does seem like a kick in the teeth to the people covering her work. Being there at lunch time is likely when most coworkers would be likely to see her – can she not play tennis at some other time or somewhere else? The time off is legitimate but I think this incident will permanently damage working relationships if/when she comes back.

      It’s difficult to know what to suggest. I think instead of complaining about seeing her playing tennis, a bunch of you (OP and others) should collectively complain about the coverage situation.

      1. Jenga*

        It’s nobody’s business why she’s on sick leave. Employees generally don’t get sick leave without proof of it being necessary.

        Maybe her doctor has suggested physical activity and maybe she can’t afford to go to a private sports facility so she’s using the work one.

        1. Hobbling Up A Hill*

          Everything you have said is 100% true and possible.

          It is also both true and possible that people will perceive and possibly speak about Delilah as though she were faking (to be clear, I do not think she IS faking) which at best gets very annoying very quickly and at worst could have negative consequences for her job and her health if somebody higher up the food chain gets it into their head that she is faking and acts against her.

          I use a variety of mobility aids. On a good day, I can get away with just a cane. On a bad day, I use a wheelchair. A large section of the population still, in 2023, do not understand the concept of conditions which are variable on different days. I have been accused a number of times of faking my need for a wheelchair because last week they saw me using a cane or simply because I can stand up. At one point a co-irker got so het up about it that they escalated the accusation to my grandboss. Fortunately my grandboss was aware of the variety of aids I need and shut that down but that could easily have become a problem.

          So while all of your points are true, I would definitely err on the side of a very gentle and careful conversation with Delilah.

        2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

          Do we even know if she is on sick leave for herself and is not caring for another person? The OP is not the manager so they are probably not privy to the exact circumstances.

          I do think that the OP should stand up for their coworker and tell the others to knock it off and mind their own business. Or maybe talk to their manager. If they are talking about Delilah behind her back how are they going to treat her when she comes back to the office?

          1. Lana Kane*

            This is another good point. It’s possible that even the manager has no idea why Delilah is on leave. With FMLA, for example, all you can know as a manager is that it’s approved, and for how long (there might be a couple of other data points I can’t remember, but none of them are the actual reason or condition).

      2. Cathires*

        It is not a kick in the teeth. It is no one’s business to know what accommodations other people have. And as many people have said, she could be using tennis as a way to recover in a myriad of ways. When I think “sick leave” I immediately think of mental health stuff or partial hospitalization or IOP, so this all makes sense to me. It’s very real that other people have to cover for others whenever they are out, but that has nothing to do with the person being out. If people are finding resent in other people not “being off work” in the way they want them to be, it’s really their own problem.

        1. Smithy*

          Delilah is certainly not going to the gym *at* her coworkers – but I think that very often management rely on staff to both cover extra work for colleagues who are out and at the same time have empathy for their colleagues being out of work for reasons that (rightly) are often kept vague.

          The lived reality is that how long that dynamic can hold varies between employees, and at some point – no matter how much employees *should* have empathy for the employee on leave, it will wain and regularly that frustration gets directed at the employee and not management for hiring/staffing differently. Most middle managers aren’t in a great place to actively change this dynamic, and so if nothing else – I think being mindful of how this sentiment does creep in positions those managers to be ahead of it far far better than assume or hope it shouldn’t happen.

        2. I have RBF*

          True. Plus, doctors encourage exercise for a lot of reasons, including caregiver respite.

          I took short term disability leave when I had a hist. Was out for six weeks. I was encouraged to start doing low impact exercise in the last couple weeks, so I started walking around my neighborhood. I would have been very irked if my coworkers assumed that meant I was ready to come back – I would walk maybe a block and be wiped out at first.

      3. doreen*

        I don’t know that management could have done anything about the coverage aspect. Some jobs just don’t lend themselves to hiring a temp , especially if the length of the absence is not known at the outset. One of my husband’s coworkers has been out sick for nearly a year and has now decided not to return – if the employer had known that he wouldn’t return at the beginning , he would have been replaced. But when it started , it was expected to be a few weeks and you can’t really hire a replacement sales rep with knowledge of the products for a few weeks ( maybe a recent retiree from the company will take it on a temp basis, but that’s about it). If they had just hired a non-temp replacement after he was out 3 months , there would have no job for him to return to.

      4. Unkempt Flatware*

        But they’re not covering her work, they’re covering THE work. She’s not responsible for how the company handles this absence.

      5. NerdBoss*

        Captain dcdwd, I get what you’re saying but from someone who has been in Delilah’s situation, I am saddened to hear that this perspective is still so prevalent! You suggest that she could play tennis at another time or another place but her office recreation area is a part of her benefits as an employee. Another way to think of it is if an employee is using the tennis court on a Saturday is that unfair to the employees who have to work on the weekends? No, of course not, because we all have different circumstances and we as workers should take full advantage of whatever perks exist. I went through a period of time when my mental illness was so severe that my husband had to take intermittent FMLA to care for me. As another commenter mentioned, he took me to the beach one day when things were particularly dire. Would this have looked back to his co-workers? Maybe, but it was a crucial support for me when my health was at its lowest. I hope that managers can lead their team with adequate coverage AND protect people who are out on FMLA.

    3. MK*

      Such complaints usually have to reach a certain level for management to even become aware of them, unless they have tapped the break room. You are perfectly right about the workload though, the unfortunate truth is that often organizations give people benefits by placing any burden on the rest of the stuff.

      1. OP2*

        The comments went from the break room to the managers to a meeting of those managers with the top manager.

        I agree that coverage is a real issue and unfortunately not one that is likely to be resolved soon. It’s not Delilah’s fault that there’s a coverage issue; that’s an organizational problem. It’s also very tricky for a team not to have any idea when or if a colleague is coming back.

        1. Jade*

          I suffered a serious accident at work. I’ve been out almost a year. While I would never show up to work and play tennis on an extended leave, because the optics are terrible, the team needs to move on and accept it’s a fluid situation and figure out how to get the job done. The team should not be speculating on the condition of the sick or injured colleague.

          1. on workplace culture*

            I agree that the optics being terrible is a real thing, but that is a problem with the work culture that needs to be addressed. Most people that are unwell enough to not be able to work and therefore are on sick leave, do not have the capacity or resources to build a recovery cocoon that is completely hidden from their workplace. One who is sick probably does not have the extra cash to switch gyms. Or maybe their colleagues to the kind of work, where they go all over the city, so that they will see you when you do free stuff like hiking.

        2. Observer*

          It’s also very tricky for a team not to have any idea when or if a colleague is coming back.

          Indeed it is. But, as you not *that’s an ORGANIZATIONAL problem*. Not Delilah’s problem.

          The fact that this turned into a meeting of manager about “What to do about Delilah” is very worrying. This is not a healthy workplace, imo.

        3. Lizcase*

          it’s very frustrating as a person who is sick to not know how long one will be out as well. For me, initially it was a couple weeks (recover from virus), then a couple months (try to figure out what’s wrong with all the tests), then a few more months (make med change, wait for effect or lack of, make new med change, repeat for several rounds).

          I was always conscious of people from work seeing me on a good day (or even a good couple hours), and thinking I should be working. Exercising is one of the treatments I have that has made a huge difference, but I am still self conscious enough to worry about cycling near the office.

          I don’t know what the situation is with the colleague. My personal experience is things can take months and it all seems to be one experiment after another. and there’s no point in returning to work until you and your doctors are sure you can consistently be okay enough to work.

    4. Gyne*

      I’m curious what you would suggest management should do differently for the coverage. An extended FMLA-type sick leave, even if the full 12 weeks, requires they hold Delilah’s job. Hiring a temporary worker doesn’t seem logistically feasible (it wouldn’t be in my industry) because on boarding to get someone up to skill would take close to that long and likely wouldn’t really provide adequate coverage, nor does this sound like the kind of role there are Temps available for.

      1. Observer*

        There are temps available for some pretty high skill positions – you just need to find them.

        Also, more often than not, there are other ways to provide some help with over-flow work.

        For instance:
        In most positions, even higher skilled positions, there are tasks that don’t absolutely require the high skilled person to do it. But it makes sense for them to do it under normal workflow situations. When someone is out, get someone who can’t do the high skill stuff to do all of those other items which may not care of the entire burden, but it helps.

        1. Quill*

          Yes. Maybe you can’t get temporary beanstalk architects, but you can get a temp to do their filing / budget tracking / counting magic beans. So you would have someone take on not only the non-architecture facets of an absent colleague’s job, but reduce the workload of the other architects so they can take over the specialized tasks more sustainably.

          1. DataSci*

            The only part of my job that could possibly be delegated to a low-skill person would be going to meetings. The same goes for my teammates. If one of us is out for an extended period, their important projects get divided up, and everyone’s low priority projects get paused. Companies generally don’t want to pay beanstalk architect salaries for magic bean counting, so they’ve already structured jobs so that the architects don’t waste their time on low-skill tasks.

        2. doreen*

          It’s not always about high-skill or low-skill – there are plenty of highly -skilled jobs where there are people who commonly take temp jobs but others where it is not so common. And sometimes it’s not about skills – if my husband’s employer hires a new sales rep, it’s at least a month before they can see customers on their own (because hey don’t know the products). Not much point in spending a month ( or more) training someone who will be there for two or three months. Assuming you can even find someone who wants a temporary job – in some positions, a temp can work as much or as little as they want to because there are always hospitals that need temporary nurses or schools that need substitute teachers. But that doesn’t work for every job – there has to be a certain level of need for temp workers to exist , because very few people are going to want a job that lasts 12 weeks if there might not be another temp job for two years.

          1. Gyne*

            I think you articulated much better what I was trying to say! Which mainly is, waving your hand and saying “hire a temp” is in my situations not at all a workable solution.

            1. Observer*

              Except that that’s not what happened. What I suggested are not the only possibilities. But they ARE possibilities in a lot of cases. In others cases there are other possibilities. And then there is the possibility of de-prioritizing some work.

              If there are NO options, and not a single project that can be pushed back, that’s a management problem because that means the group is not adequately staffed. That’s still not the sick person’s problem.

    5. Pretty as a Princess*

      Agreed – the problem is the gossip.

      The only reason to look in your neighbor’s bowl is to see if he has enough.

      If people are overworked covering Delilah’s responsibilities, that is not a problem Delilah is creating. That is a problem managers are creating. No one should say a damn thing to Delilah except “Hi! It’s good to see you!”

      The thing to say is very simple when people complain about her being on leave and having the audacity to play tennis:

      “Delilah’s leave is not your concern, and this is the last time I expect to hear about it from anyone. Focus on your responsibilities.”

      Separately, the other thing is also very simple. When someone complains about their workload, “Let’s discuss priorities and see how we can make this manageable” if you are the boss; if not “You really need to talk with Jane about your workload.”

      1. Hannah Lee*

        On the Delilah’s leave is not your concern front, a) it isn’t and b) there are all kinds of reasons why someone could be on medical leave yet be able to play tennis. A good friend of mine was on disability leave for a long time after a serious accident. That she was able to walk and talk was a miracle. When talking to her doctors and lawyer about what she could do and not do physically without getting herself into an issue medically and legally (ie putting her leave, income at risk) the lawyer (who had expertise in employment law and disability) described it to her this way – You might be able to get up on Monday, shower, dress, get yourself to work, work for 8 hours get yourself home, make dinner, eat, go to bed. Maybe, if you were having a good day. But could you do all that an then get up and do it again on Tuesday? And Wednesday? etc etc. The being able to reliably and sustainably not only do the work required of a job, but the life stuff around that (bathing, dressing, preparing meals, commuting, etc) was the threshold that would* be legally used to assess her disability status.

        Just because she might be able to, by resting up beforehand, using prescribed pain relievers and other meds, breaking her prep (showering, dressing, transportation) into chunks that she could rest in between, sit up and do paperwork for two hours, or go to a yoga class and then come home lie down, didn’t mean she wasn’t disabled or had to go back to work. Her doctor agreed with that, and said she could try any activity within reason (ie he said … you don’t really need to ride horses or sky dive, right? You can live a full life without that)

        *her former employer tried to argue otherwise in court and got shut down, thankfully. But people suffering medical issues should not have to even worry about that. The co-workers attitudes are part of the reason why they do wind up worrying about it.

      2. wendelenn*

        The only reason to look in your neighbor’s bowl is to see if he has enough.

        I NEED this on a mug or t-shirt. Brilliant!

  5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (CEO protecting useless employee) – I think there must be some underlying reason he’s being protected – nepotism or such like.

    Having him report directly to the CEO was the wrong move imo. Now he feels like he is super important because he’s directly working with the CEO while all these other minions have a chain of command with multiple levels of management… I expect he is pretty unaware that he’s failing all over the place.

    CEO has terrible judgement with this. Are their decisions sound otherwise?

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I think the underlying reason may just be that the CEO is “a very fair and nice guy” and John sounds like a manipulative a-hole who knows exactly how to work on that kind of person.

      The CEO is trying to be fair and nice to John, but he can’t do that AND be fair to the rest of the staff too. The OP not getting rid of John sooner unfortunately means that the CEO has been sucked into John’s one-member personality cult, and that’s not going to end well for the rest of the staff. I think the OP made a big mistake in letting the CEO manage John, and they’ll either have to move on or sit back and watch things implode.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Yes, it could well just be that.

        Interesting that his contract is up for renewal in June. Who makes the decision about that? I think how that’s handled (and the outcome) will tell OP and their colleagues how to proceed. CEO has a “conflict avoiding” opportunity here to say the contract can’t be renewed due to the business landscape or whatever; if they go ahead and renew it in order to be ‘fair’ to John, OP and colleagues will know this situation will never change.

        1. XF1013*

          If they renew it? I expect the CEO to promote John into a leadership role in June, given the trajectory of the letter. OP1, I very much hope for a happy update from you in the future, but I worry that it’s going to be of the found-a-better-job variety rather than what you wanted. :-(

      2. EPLawyer*

        Yeah, the CEO sounded so much like the letter writer from yesterday woh invested somuch into a struggling employee only to have the employee ghhost. The CEO here is trying so hard to make John succeed that he can’t see that John is in fact NOT succeeding.

        OP- couple of options, and only you know your workplace best so you can decide if either of these work:
        1. Lay it all out to the CEO again. Everything all at once. Not piecemeal as it arises. Show the PATTERN. Think you are making a business case for why John needs to go. Show how his lack of ability to do his job affects the work.
        2. Let John fail. No one cover him. No one give him instructions that he should already know. No handholding. If there are deadlines that are looking to be missed go to the CEO and say We need X from John and haven’t received it that means the deadline will be missed, how do you want to proceed. If the CEO says cover for him say okay which of MY deadlines do you want me to miss so I can cover for John. Right now the work gets done and so the CEO is happy. Let it go and see if things change.

        Okay 3rd option – John is there for life and you have to decide if you want to continue to work there under those conditions.

        1. My Useless 2 Cents*

          My gut instinct is similar to yours. Speak up, don’t step in for John in any way, and let CEO feel/see that John is just bad at his job. However, I’ve been in a similar situation and CEO thought everyone was just bullying “John”! If CEO doesn’t want to see it, there isn’t a lot OP can do.

          OP, even if you don’t want to move on, plan for a mass exodus from your coworkers. Having steps in place may soften the blow for you and remaining coworkers.

      3. Totally Minnie*

        I’ve actually had some minor success with managers by framing the situation to them in those exact terms. “I know you want to be kind to Matilda in this, and I think that’s a worthwhile goal to have, but the way you’re going about it is really unkind to Jane and Bob, and we need to make sure we’re being kind and fair to them as well.” Sometimes that can shake an otherwise good leader into realizing the situation is untenable.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        The flip side of “fair and nice” is sometimes “wimpy and unwilling to do the hard parts of being in charge”, which is what I think we actually have going on here. My supervisor is fair and nice but also makes sure the work gets done and nobody is being abused; it’s not at all the same thing.

        1. Paulina*

          Yes. Being “nice” otherwise ends up being very unfair, if the boss just responds to the one person who makes it the most obvious that they need to be handled nicely. And sometimes the professionalism of everyone else is a trap, because everyone else isn’t bringing up all that they’re dealing with and instead are doing their best to get the work done. John is having multiple crying bouts with the CEO; I expect there are plenty of other employees who have things they could cry about, including how stressful it is dealing with John on top of everything else, but they don’t.

      5. BethRA*

        “I think the OP made a big mistake in letting the CEO manage John”

        I wouldn’t assume that was OP’s choice or decision – or that OP had the option to get rid of John earlier. Sounds to me like the CEO and the HRBP actively thwarted efforts to hold John accountable and/or fire him.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      We had a female version of John at my current job two supervisors ago – she was just totally useless (I really mean useless – shift productivity would almost double when she was out sick level useless), but boy was she good at interviewing and selling herself. Another team found out she was a final candidate to replace their departing manager and it was crazy. That entire team revolted and went to their grandboss to issue an ultimatum- if you hire her we will all be gone in four months (some even brought proof of interviews scheduled with other teams as proof of how serious they were).

      She didn’t get the job – and promptly flounced off to another team – where she got fired three months in for timecard fraud. No, I don’t miss her at all. I almost wrote letters to Alison over how to deal with this person.

      1. TeratomasAreWeird*

        Yeah, unfortunately I don’t see any options to solve this other than a full-team revolt or leaving to find another job.

    3. Melissa*

      I worked for an incredibly dysfunctional company (a health office) a few years ago. It was a huge facility, hundreds of employees. Their unstated policy was, basically, no one can ever be fired. If you pushed a manager on the question, they would respond “HR is worried about a lawsuit….” There was a truly awful employee in my department. She did zero work, and was openly disrespectful to superiors, as well as patients. It was a “this is awful and isn’t going to change” situation, so I had to leave. The only other option was lose my sanity because of how crazy it was that they didn’t get rid of bad employees!

      1. NeedRain47*

        When I worked at a university, a coworker told me that it was easier to wait for someone to retire than to get them fired for doing a bad job. This wasn’t their official policy, but the only time I saw anyone get terminated was during their 6 month probationary period.

    4. Khatul Madame*

      There may be a pre-existing connection (nepotism) between John and the CEO and the change in reporting was made to prevent the LW from firing John.
      Generally HR is not involved in managing contractors/non-employees. If HR is protecting John in this situation, it also signifies powerful backing.

    5. Qwerty*

      The underlying reason is most likely mundane. Sounds like CEO has had fine experiences with John and probably now believes the people complaining about him are the problem.

      I’ve seen so many instances where an exec likes a problematic employee, especially if both of them are the same demographic. Exec does not have the insight to see how terrible employee is doing, terrible employee is all sunshine and compliments to the exec, exec gets annoyed by people bringing up stuff that he sees as “petty” or starts to think the complainers are biased. John will probably stick around until he slips and lashes out at the CEO rather than people lower on the food chain.

    6. Momma Bear*

      I think other than making John’s problems the CEO’s problems, there’s not much to be done. If LW knows for certain that John outsourced without permission, I’d bring it up to CEO/HR/my own boss as a security/NDA breach. Whether or not John is protected, LW needs to protect themselves, too. If his contract is renewed in June, I’d be looking for another job.

  6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (salary review didn’t happen) – prepare yourself for the possibility that if nothing was put in writing, that they’ll deny any knowledge/memory of this, probably with a statement like “it isn’t in our policy to do that, so we wouldn’t have said it”. It is easy for managers to promise something they don’t have the authority to in order to get someone in the door.

    1. Artemesia*

      I used to work for a guy who made promises like this that we could not keep given the way the organization worked; I was the person who would have to clean up after him. It is really frustrating to have to tell someone who deserves, the raise, or the promised salary or the new office or whatever that it won’t happen.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Sort of – what was in writing was the following:

        > I also have this in writing. Specifically, “We will review you in about three months to see about a bump.”

        Assuming those are the exact words, it wouldn’t be written like that in an offer letter or such like, so I think that was something less formal like an email. “See about a bump” is far from having in the offer letter “salary will increase by 6000 to X following completion of a successful 3 month initial period”.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Doesn’t have to be formal Whereas the party of the first part agrees to review the salary of the party of the second part pursuant to a possible raise.

          ANY writing is enough to at least raise the issue of a salary review.

  7. Other Alice*

    #2, the coworkers should complain about their workload to management, not to the person on extended medical leave that they’re covering for.

  8. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #2: I’m writing this from inside a psych ward!
    Physically I’m fine, mentally really really not.
    I could, in theory, go to the gym.
    The complaining colleagues can take a hike.

    1. Mid*

      Yup. My first thought was it was a mental health issue, which is something that would also benefit from time at a gym and socializing, even when on sick leave. But regardless of what her illness is, she still gets to use the gym.

      Also an hour or two of exercise (eg tennis) is very different from say an entire day of checking calculations/cold calling/proofing documents, etc. If she’s recovering from a head injury, the exercise might be helpful while attention intensive tasks might not be. If she’s dealing with burnout or depression or anxiety, an hour socializing near her workplace could help with that. And so on and so forth.

      The problem is not her sick leave or her use of the gym. The problem is her team isn’t properly staffed, and that’s not on her.

    2. OP2*

      I would love to hear more on this site about burnout generally and the best ways to reintegrate the workplace afterward.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        I’m the wrong person to ask about general burnout and depression due to interesting intersections with autism and I’ll hopefully get early retirement within the year because I just can’t anymore.
        But I’m sure someone with more knowledge will come along eventually.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yes especially since many people work while burntout and it can be difficult for everyone ( asking for me, who can only really do an 8 hour day much to everyone’s chagrin)

      3. Quill*

        Same, because I’m sure that we are going to have more people asking questions than people with answers.

      4. Fuel Injector*

        I encourage you to do your own research. Burn out is about much more than working long hours. It is also about one’s relationships with coworkers and bosses, one’s sense of autonomy, and numerous other complex factors. If these other factors are in play, burnout can happen even when people work 40 hours a week or less. This blog tends to focus only on hours, which doesn’t give a full picture.

    3. Nodramalama*

      I think maybe there’s just a bit of cognitive dissonance happening. Once our managers manager was suddenly out on sick leave during a very busy period a week before she was taking leave for a holiday. While she was on sick leave my work mate came back from his lunch break and said he saw her trying on clothes at the shopping centre. While he recognised there was nothing WRONG with her doing that, it was also something he definitely picked up on.

      1. Snow Globe*

        People seem to think if you are out on medical leave, you are supposed to be at home, in bed the entire time, which is ridiculous if you think about it, but a lot of people don’t bother to think before making judgments.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          If I were in bed all the time I’d have no muscles left…
          Right now I’m in a cat cafe trying to convince a cat to come closer and let me pet them…
          We’re actually encouraged to do stuff outside the hospital.

          1. EPLawyer*

            We need an update on whether the kitty came close enough to pet.

            All right, we actually need an update on YOU. Please take care and hope things go well for you.

          2. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Best wishes from one knitting cat lady (and black cat mom) to another. I hope the cat realizes how awesome it will be to have you pet them. <3

          3. Relentlessly Socratic*

            Hello fellow knitting cat lady!
            May your cat cafe visits be relaxing and your yarn free of tangles.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          What you say is generally true, but I think doesn’t apply in this specific case.

          Nodramalama was talking about someone who was “out of sick leave” and seen trying on clothes “a week before she was taking leave for a holiday”. That timing just looks bad, and when you add in “during a very busy period” it’s even worse.

    4. Lola*

      Yes, my thoughts exactly. I had a good friend who was suffering from crippling depression, had to be hospitalized several times, and took an extended leave from work. Part of her recovery plan included incoprorating more exercise. She and I went to the gym regularly during work hours (I was unemployed at the time).

      Sending good thoughts to you, Knititng Cat Lady.

    5. There You Are*

      Yep, I’ve taken FMLA leave twice in my 35 years of working and both times it was for mental health issues (related to the stress of the jobs I was in, but that’s a different topic).

      If I were a tennis player, my doc would have recommended that I play tennis to exercise my body and give my mind a break. As it was, he recommended walks outdoors and doing literally anything physical to engage all the muscles in my body one way or another.

  9. Green great dragon*

    #1, you’re telling the CEO the problems, but are you still handholding John? What happens if you do that less, and expect the CEO to actually manage him? So when John hasn’t provided the work to time, you email the CEO (or cc the CEO) to say the task isn’t done, which is causing problem x. Every time.

    1. WS*

      Yes. Make John the CEO’s problem, not yours and not your team’s. Be polite but specific, and try to communicate with John in writing as much as possible so that you have a record of his promises.

      1. XF1013*

        Definitely. Documentation is critical when dealing with a serial liar like John, who might try to persuade the CEO that he’s the victim of some kind of made-up smear campaign by colleagues.

    2. High Score!*

      Yep. You are focused on the wrong person. You don’t have a John problem, you have a CEO problem. The CEO is not nice and fair he’s only nice and fair to John.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      And regard John as irrelevant to the work of the team. It sucks that headcount is reduced, but better to let John do whatever it is he does with his day than to rely on him for anything. Back in the day, big companies had made-up jobs like “corporate historian” for guys who were useless but protected.

      1. There You Are*

        At Microsoft, one of my managers was horrible but protected so they gave her the title of “Manager of Special Projects” to keep her busy with paperwork / spreadsheet graphs and away from being a people-manager.

    4. Free Meerkats*

      This. Stop handholding, stop doing his work. If he asks something send him one email that says essentially, “Here’s the procedure that I taught you a year ago, 9 months ago, 6 months ago, and 3 months ago with a link to the procedure (proactively write one if it doesn’t already exist since after year you know what he’s going to ask.)”

      Stop enabling both of them, he’s the CEO’s to manage; so stop trying to manage him along with doing his work for hem.

  10. vvy*

    Its perfectly reasonable that someone might be on sick leave but still be able to use the gym and play tennis– still, someone may want to mention to Delilah that discretion is the better part of valor.

    For her sake if nothing else– its her choice, of course, but she should be aware of how this is coming across to coworkers. Shutting down open gossip doesn’t prevent private judgment.

    Some options could include going somewhere else to play, or being more open with her coworkers about at least some element of why tennis is possible but work isnt

    1. Molly Millions*

      While I understand the intent, I would worry that saying something to her might actually sabotage her recovery. (E.g. if she’s off for mental health, you don’t want to add an element of guilt or shame to an activity she’s doing to de-stress). The OP doesn’t have enough context to know whether the benefits of letting her know outweigh the risks.

      Opening up more to her coworkers might help – or it might not. Certain medical conditions have a stigma attached to them, and her colleagues haven’t exactly demonstrated themselves to be kind and non-judgemental.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        This is a really important point. Bringing it up to Delilah might actually make her health condition worse, which wouldn’t help the situation at all.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I think the OP should shut things down with the coworkers who are complaining. The cat is already out of the bag, in the sense that Delilah exercises in public, and her coworkers know it. Whether she does it at the company facility or elsewhere, they already know and will resent it.

      Their resentment is the real issue – not whether Delilah is using company benefits to which she is entitled.

      I would be pointing out that none of the team know what Delilah’s issue is, that there are MANY reasons to be on leave that don’t entail being physically incapacitated, that Delilah has every right to exercise at the company gym, and that it’s good for her to keep up with what is happening at the company. How would they want people to treat them if they were on a leave?

      Complaints about workload should be directed to management, who should be able to find a temp worker or contractor to help out – even if it means shuffling tasks around a bit so that the specialized stuff gets done by people who know how and the temp/contractor takes on the simpler / more generic stuff.

    3. Observer*

      Shutting down open gossip doesn’t prevent private judgment.

      It does send a solid signal.

      eing more open with her coworkers about at least some element of why tennis is possible but work isnt

      People shouldn’t have to lose their privacy to keep people from jumping to conclusions. And I honestly don’t think that it will help anyway. A far more likely outcome is that now everyone feels totally qualified to decide if she is really “sick enough” to deserve extended sick leave and if she’s handling her medical problems the “right way” according to the self-proclaimed experts at work who still don’t have the necessary information nor standing to make judgements.

  11. Nodramalama*

    I think for Lw2 both things can be true. Delilah can be doing absolutely nothing wrong, because there IS nothing wrong with being on sick leave and continuing to do exercise, AND it can be bad optics for Delilah to be attending the work gym while on sick leave. It might be wrong but the reality is that people will form their opinions based on what they see, and you can’t really stop that. Work gossip happens, and someone who is on sick leave but playing tennis at the work facilities might generate chat.

  12. nightingale*


    My first thought is that the colleague OP2 describes might not have a physical health condition and it might be mental health related. Often part of the treatment is exercise. Or it might be that she had a physical problem and part of the recovery is rebuilding her strength by exercising.

    Paying to attend tennis at another facility might not be an option if this is how she gets exercise, especially if she is on a reduced income relating to to her being on leave, or especially if other facilities have extended contracts.

    Hopefully the gossip can be shut down

    1. OP2*

      For reasons of medical privacy we cannot know whether she has a physical or a mental issue, so I’ve tried to step away from that part of the picture.

      1. nightingale*

        I totally understand that. It’s more that I mean that people are judging her and not considering that because they can’t know the full story that they don’t know if starting to exercise and stuff is part of her plan to return to work and that it might be available right now in a way that work isn’t. It just makes me wonder about how people talk about/approach medical leave in general – not about a specific person but like openly sharing that the company supports medical leave and that hope you’ll use the facilities if the doctor recommends exercise as part of the recovery, and that they understand it comes in many forms. I’m not recommending your org do this; I’m just speculating because it seems like reframing the perspective, in a general sense, might help.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I was on extended leave for mental health reasons, and in the midst of that I also nearly died of thrombosis. Both the phlebologist and the psychiatrist recommended that I exercise as much as possible.

      3. on workplace culture*

        I fear that people will still speculate. If one might want to broaden the picture, so that there wasn’t only the mental health issue conclusion to be drawn. Many medical conditions treatment plans include exercise (and socializing). Surgeries, auto-immune desease, certain cancers, lots of neurological stuff… It will not always be a formalized treatmentplan, but most often a, do this stuff or a version you are able to, because I the doctor can only do this much.

      4. Mockingjay*

        I think it’s time for management to remind all employees that 1) speculation about fellow employees’ health, physical or mental, will not be tolerated – all employees are to respect each other’s privacy; 2) paid amenities are for use by employees as they will. You should have stepped in sooner about the gossip.

        Most importantly, do something about the coverage issue! It’s far cheaper to bring in a temp, or de-prioritize a couple efforts and let the team breathe, than it will be to advertise, hire, and train replacements when staff members start jumping ship due to an intolerable workload. Your employees are focusing on Delilah as a scapegoat because their problems are NOT being solved. Your teams are understaffed if the absence of one employee creates such an issue.

      5. Observer*

        For reasons of medical privacy we cannot know whether she has a physical or a mental issue, so I’ve tried to step away from that part of the picture.

        That’s kind of the point.

        You (ie all of the staff except for the people who approved her leave), have no idea of what her medical issues are nor how the tennis playing fits in to it. So, you (see above) just need to step away from any and all judgement about the matter. You simply don’t have the necessary information.

  13. Madame X*

    As Alison stated, there could be many reasons why Delilah is on medical leave from her work duties that doesn’t preclude her from physical activity like tennis. Playing tennis may even be beneficial for her recovery. That said, is there not another place that she could play tennis or get some physical exercise? In an ideal world, no one would judge her or complain.
    However, I can understand that the optics of the Delilah sauntering into her workplace to play tennis while her coworkers are dealing with an increased work load, is rubbing people the wrong way. (OP2 already responded above that reducing the workload or increasing the staffing isn’t an option at the moment)
    Obviously, it’s her choice, but if there’s anyone who is close enough to her that can gently make her aware, perhaps she might make a different decision about where to get her exercise.

  14. Ducky*

    OP3, you say you’re in LA. I’m think California has some laws regarding employers paying for required transportation, including if your commute is beyond a certain distance? I can’t swear to it offhand, but I recall it mattering when I got hired if I lived within 15 miles of the office, though that might have been because some employees had to be not at the office but a separate building?

    Obviously IANAL and don’t remember the details, but California has some of the best laws in the US regarding business expenses so it could be worth looking into specifics.

    1. HR Friend*

      I think you’re thinking of the law that requires employers to compensate employees when workers are required to commute to a new job site, if that job site is farther away than the typical job site. No laws (afaik!) that require CA businesses to pay for normal commutes.

  15. I should be working*

    LW3 I understand where you are because I was in that place early in my career. I’d always taken the bus to work and then started interviewing for a job that was located in an area that was not possible to get to buy bus. It kind of made me grumpy that my regular costof living would suddenly go up from paying for a bus pass to gas, insurance, etc. because of a job. I probably wouldn’t have bought a car otherwise.

    I just figured I wouldn’t accept a job where the salary was lower than my current salary plus the estimated annual cost of having a car. I didn’t mention the car specifically in the salary negotiation but did make it clear that I had an absolute minimum acceptable salary.

    1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      I think this is the most reasonable way of doing it.
      LW3, you don’t have to tell a prospective employer the specifics of why you want to be within a certain salary range. Try and figure out what the minimim needed to also get and keep a car are, and state that/look for that as the start of your salary range.
      After all, the company doesn’t care if you want avcertain amount of money minimim because you would need to buy a car, have expensive medical needs or want to build the largest possible indoor parcour training area for your pet turtle.

  16. Ellis Bell*

    I wonder if dropping the “sick” from sick leave would help OP2 in shutting down the gossipers when they speak with them. You shouldn’t have to, there are all sorts of ways to be unwell, but some people short circuit the word “sick” to mean “physically unable” and it might be confusing the message. Dropping the word ‘sick’ would also help keep the discussion vague, away from health matters, and prevent speculation on Delilah’s mental health, since the cause of the leave probably isn’t her physical health. Something like “Delilah is on properly documented extended leave. There are all sorts of personal reasons and circumstances which would require personal leave and I am not privy to the details, such is the importance of privacy in these cases. I do not want anyone to spread around the idea that just because they are on emergency leave, they cannot use their social network for support, or look after their physical health.” If the employee restates the idea behind the gossip: “But how can she be sick if she is playing tennis!” Just repeat: “She is on extended leave for personal reasons, and that’s all we need to know”.

  17. L-squared*

    #2. This is really a management issue that Deliliah is bearing the brunt of the scorn for. Lets say this was parental leave she was out for, and not sick leave. I have a feeling (though could be wrong based on how petty these people are) that this wouldn’t be an issue then. If Delilah or Joe was leaving the baby with the other parent to go work out at the company gym, people would likely be ok with it. But because its “sick” leave, and people don’t know the issue, then its a problem. But in general, it seems to be a problem because her coworkers are stretched thin, because management has done nothing about it. Her coworkers are jerks, and management is letting the blame fall on someone who has nothing to do with it. This unfortunately isn’t common. Management will in different ways often pit employees against each other.

  18. redflagday701*

    “I live in Los Angeles and have never owned a car in the ten years I’ve been here.”

    But, but — NOBODY…

    1. Stuff*

      In all fairness, Los Angeles Metro got good, if you actually live in their service area (which, to be fair, a ton of Angelinos do not). If you have the benefit of a good location, you could totally live 10 years in Los Angeles without a car.

    2. Former_Employee*

      I have lived in Los Angeles now in a neighboring city (still very much in LA County) and I do not drive. Never have.

      Public transportation has improved greatly starting about 25 years ago or so.

  19. bamcheeks*

    LW2, it would make sense for your organisation to have a policy about whether staff on long-term sick leave are allowed on site and whether their subscriptions or access to organisational facilities is frozen or ongoing.

    But if you have that and Delilah is within her rights to use the sports facilities, then managers should be reminding everyone that sick leave is granted for all sorts of conditions, many of which do not preclude playing sport once or twice a week, and that people who don’t understand that look very ignorant.

  20. Anne of Green Gables*

    #5 reference from coworker who was laid off: I agree with Alison and think this is absolutely something you can do. In 2010, I was part of large layoffs in my organization. It was made clear that there was likely going to be a second round of layoffs not long after (and there were, 3 months later). I was surprised by how much of a support network there was among everyone. Lots of sharing of job postings, people still employed being references for those who were laid off even though the organization officially only allowed to confirm employment dates, much rallying together from people still employed there and laid off. I think it’s worth asking, and I suggest framing it as “I’m also happy to be a reference for you, and will keep an eye out for openings you might be interested in as I search.” Good luck with your job search!

  21. Tuckerman*

    #2 My doctors encouraged me to continue my normal workouts through cancer treatment. Staying on my workout schedule was actually a great way for them to assess side effects and complications (“Last week I could do x but this week I can only do .5x”) I was only using intermittent FMLA and don’t have a gym at work, but I wouldn’t have changed my workout location/paid for a new facility if I already had one set up. Illness is chaotic enough, why add more work and expense for someone experiencing a serious medical issue.

    1. Anon for this one*

      Same. My oncologist pointed to studies that exercise was associated with better outcomes for my type of cancer. (Later on I had a rare and nasty side effect meaning I could barely walk to the car, but I did as much as I could while I could.)

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Exactly – when I had cancer, I tried to keep up with normal life as much as possible. Some days, that mean sleeping all day. Others, I was out and about. I would have been extremely angry had anyone suggested I should be working instead.

  22. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I won’t dispute that people on medical leaves need the exercise, the social activity, a turn-off-the-brain beach vacation for a million reasons. It’s the optics that are the issue. And how some medical leaves are handled by the employer and the insurance plan.

    The employer is responsible to hire and manage the workload – but it’s hard to hire when you have no idea how long you can hire for.

    I found myself taking on the work of a colleague on medical leave – at first for two weeks, then two more weeks, then three more weeks, then a month, then two months, oh, we can do six months, two more months, wash rinse repeat until it was almost three years had passed and that person was on permanent disability. Each time we had a possible return date, I was mentally preparing to hand things back over to them and the seemingly endless extensions of her leave meant long term planning was very difficult.

    Did I want this person to return before they were ready to? No.

    Was I aware that being ill and dealing with doctors, HR and the insurance company and what I only assume is endless paperwork while trying to get better is a whole chore on its own? Yes.

    Did I want to stop the roller coaster ride of “Will they-won’t they return next month?” Yes. Because three years of uncertainty took its toll on the worker, too.

    And if it’s been months of a colleague being away and the employer has not addressed the issue of coverage or workload management due to that colleague being away and the ones working have postponed vacations, or taken on overtime, or at risk of their own burnout or similar and then see that colleague on Facebook on a beach vacation during their medical leave, well, that just stings. We’re only human after all and the urge to be compassionate crashes against the sudden “must be nice to be on a beach while sick.”

    I know the colleague I replaced took at least one beach vacation. Do I hold it against her? No – she probably needed it. But I do struggle with the frustration I had during those three years she was away.

    OP – encourage people to reframe their valid feelings of frustration and then to challenge the employer to do something about the work situation, and not take it out on the employee who is trying to get better.

    1. Observer*

      encourage people to reframe their valid feelings of frustration and then to challenge the employer to do something about the work situation, and not take it out on the employee who is trying to get better.

      This. 100%

      The frustration is valid. The target is not.

    2. Fish*

      At first I thought I was reading about my Delilah experience here.

      Our department was understaffed, so not surprising that management expected those of us who split up Delilah’s duties to just carry the load indefinitely.

      Eventually I knew privately why Delilah was out. When it became clear she couldn’t return anytime soon, management shouldn’t have kept telling us another month, another month. I did speak up, and they did change that approach the next extension.

    3. Camelid coordinator*

      I had a similar experience around folks being out for a period of time that kept getting extended. During a period when the labor market in my area was tight it took two weeks to hire a temp then a week for the temp to quit for something more in line with their goals. Originally the leave was supposed to be three weeks so we were halfway in. I could have carried everything for another three weeks but decided on a different staffing strategy. Good thing I did, the leave kept getting extended.

  23. Molly Millions*

    Tennis: This is so tough. You don’t want Delilah to return to find a bunch of her colleagues are inexplicably hostile towards her – but if exercise and socialization are helping in her recovery and this is her only outlet for that, you don’t want to dissuade her from coming in.

    I would lean against saying anything to Delilah; you don’t know the details of her illness, and if she’s not in a good place mentally, even a well-meaning comment could be very anxiety-inducing and might set her back.

    I’d push back very firmly against anyone gossiping, though: “Sick leave doesn’t mean bedridden, and doctors actually prescribe exercise for a lot of conditions. I’m glad our company supports workers on sick leave, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be judged like this if you ever needed it.”

  24. Lady Blerd*

    LW2: In my org, it is very normal to see someone who is on extended medical leave be at our gym because often times, going to the gym is part of their recovery/return to work plan. I disagree with the comments above about it being a bad look that she’s going to your gym because you just never know why she’s there. It is not Delilah’s fault that you didn’t hire a temp to do her work or that you didn’t do a better job spreading her workload. Let her be and shut down the gossip because THAT is what’s not a good look for you or your org.

  25. Naomi*

    OP1: You don’t have a John problem, you have a CEO problem. He might be “a very fair and nice guy,” but that attitude is backfiring here, whether he’s in denial about John or just too spineless to fire him.

    One thing that stood out to me was the boss saying that “he and HR have no complaints.” I thought this meant they hadn’t received any complaints from employees, but you mention complaining about John on several occasions, so I suppose you mean they see nothing wrong with John’s behavior. Think about that. John might be two-faced with the CEO, but everyone else is reporting John’s lies and incompetence and policy violations, and the CEO looks at all that and goes “this is fine”? At this point, I think you have to stop giving the CEO a pass for being “fair and nice” and recognize that he has all the facts and is actively refusing to manage John.

    1. High Score!*

      Yep, exactly. The CEO is only fair and nice to John, and not at all fair or nice to those he has to work with. And this has the stench of nepotism.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I’d say they have a John -and- CEO problem.

      One thing that stood out to me was the boss saying that “he and HR have no complaints.” I thought this meant they hadn’t received any complaints from employees, but you mention complaining about John on several occasions, so I suppose you mean they see nothing wrong with John’s behavior.

      I thought the same thing. Either CEO is lying, or HR is lying.

  26. Somewhere in Texas*

    LW#5- It would also be nice to offer to serve as a reference for them! Sympathize that your current company has made things hard and that y’all are both in the job hunting boat–just for different reasons/timelines.

    1. I Could Use a Massage*

      I agree. Definitely ok to ask. Most people won’t withhold a reference just because they were laid off.
      My only note of caution would be that if they are also a good candidate for the position you are applying for, they may not want to be a reference…they may want to apply as well! That of course depends on whether you held the same type of role at your current company.
      Good luck getting a new job, OP!

  27. Boss Scaggs*

    If John is *that* bad, and the CEO knows about the behavior, AND the CEO plus HR are fine with it, I think that tells you all you need to know.

    1. Observer*

      Yes. And one of the things that it tells you is that the CEO is not all that fair. He wants to LOOK fair. But what he’s doing is totally NOT fair.

  28. theletter*

    My mother successfully negotiated a signing bonus (prepandemic) when interviewing for hybrid office in another town, possibly because she mentioned to someone that she’d probably have to get a new car.

    That situation was a bit of blue moon. The hiring manager was very motivated, had a large budget, and she expressed a lot of hesitation to accept any offer.

  29. AnneSurely*

    As someone who felt self conscious running into co-workers outside of work when I was on medical leave, please don’t say anything. Just adding another voice to the herd. (I had no logical reason to feel self conscious. But I guess I’m just an anxious person and worried that because I probably looked fine, and was out and about in the world, they’d think I was just lazy and faking with the medical leave. Truth was I was recovering from a surgery, in general tend to be great at masking pain and ailments unless they are really extreme, and any excursion to someplace like the farmer’s market was likely my one excursion a day and would exhaust me so much that I’d probably not get off the couch the rest of the day. Because healing is incredibly energy intensive and exhausting, but sometimes people need to do “regular” things while healing for physical and/or mental health reasons.)

    1. I have RBF*


      Plus doing as much as you can, even if it exhausts you the next day, is part of building up the stamina to return to work. Recovering from surgery can be very slow and has good days and bad days.

      People need to learn to not be so judgy when dealing with folks on leave.

  30. Falling Diphthong*

    Usually when someone at a good-size company is reassigned to report directly to the CEO, it’s because the CEO thinks this person is doing a great job, and wants them free to do that job outside of the hierarchy that constrains the other employee.

    This isn’t even the first time I’ve heard of it used more like moving a misbehaving 4th grader’s desk next to the teacher’s desk. But in the business version, the person moved to report directly to the CEO is never going to infer “because I am so terrible at this job no one else will tolerate me” as the reason.

  31. KTC*

    LW3, what about negotiating for an up front bonus to assist with a down payment on a car? I have successfully done that in the past when moving from a position that came with a company car to one that did not have that perk.

    1. Rosemary*

      I think it is one thing if the job itself requires a car (which is usually the case when a company provides a car). It sounds like in this case the person needs to car to commute to the office – which by itself I do not think is a reasonable reason to ask for more money.

  32. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    Our team totally has a Delilah right now. People are allowed to take 2 weeks off total during the summer (very in demand) and only 3 people off per week out of 25 or so. My colleague Rupert is having an elective shoulder arthroscopy on June 1st then planning 2 months sick leave off at his family’s second home in Italy. Other people are being assigned additional weekend days and we’ll be generally short staffed. People are totally talking about him behind his back.

    1. Observer*

      I’m honestly glad that I don’t work in your company.

      The company doesn’t seem to be handling things well. But the gossip is gross. Just because the surgery is “elective” it doesn’t mean that it is not necessary. It just means that he’s not going to die or actually lose his arm if he doesn’t get the surgery.

      He’s doing everyone a favor by planning the sick leave. It takes time for this stuff to heal, and if there is any lifting at all involved, he can’t come back too soon. Same if there is a lot of computer work, especially if the workstations are not extremely ergonomically set up. So, better that he should let the company know in advance so they can plan. It’s not his fault that they are handling it poorly.

      And what difference does it make that he’s going to recover at his family’s second home? The more comfortable and pleasant the surroundings are, the better his recover will be. Why does he have to compromise that? Or does this indication of family wealth make him ineligible for taking sick leave? To be honest, I think he’s smart for going so far away – it’s going to be a lot harder for anyone to pressure him to come back in and take some shifts.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, elective surgery usually just means “able to be scheduled for the most convenient time” instead of “optional.”

        1. Gyne*

          Quill, I think that’s the rub – if the colleague in this case had communicated with his team something to the effect of, hey, I need this procedure done but have a time range between these dates where I can do it. When would the scheduling work out the best for coverage, and if I can get those dates I will do it. And if the surgeon’s schedule is so packed that only the beginning of the summer will do, a pre-emptive sincere thanks to the team covering your work and an acknowledgement that you see the impact on them would goes a long way.

          1. Observer*

            You don’t know what that colleague communicated or didn’t. But even if he didn’t the reaction here is still gross.

            And the idea that it’s easy to schedule surgeries around your work’s summer plans is not realistic. Especially with elective surgeries because doctors are going to prioritize the really life threatening stuff.

            1. Gyne*

              It seems like it was not communicated well, as there are hard feelings about it. So something went sideways.

          2. DataSci*

            It’s not necessarily how packed the schedule is, but “you need to have this done ASAP or bad things will happen. My earliest availability is June”. Elective just means “not emergency”; it doesn’t necessarily mean “whenever”.

  33. mondaysamiright*

    #2 is one of those interesting situations where there’s a “right” answer and a “realistic” answer. In a perfect world, someone out on sick leave wouldn’t be judged for what they’re seen doing on that leave, coworkers would be provided temp help by the company so covering for the absent worker wouldn’t become a burden, and gossip would be shot down because it’s not their business.

    But in reality, I’m not surprised this is causing an optics issue! The coworkers aren’t getting help with coverage, and overworked/resentful people don’t always direct their ire in the most effective way, especially since they’re seeing Delilah all the time. I can’t tell from the letter if OP is in a good position to tell the upset coworkers to mind their business (or maybe convey that to a manager who can pass the message on appropriately?) and/or if they could reasonably have a quiet word with Delilah about the optics issue so she can make a more informed decision herself about if she wants to keep coming on-site to play tennis. If they could do either of these things, I think it’d be helpful. But yeah, definitely take Alison’s caveats into consideration if you do.

    1. OP2*

      I’m in a relatively good position to speak my mind to my coworkers, and I would not hesitate to do so. I missed the meeting at which this came out, but had I been there, I would’ve spoken up. Hearing about it a week later was frustrating but having the space (and all these constructive comments) to think about it really helps me plan how to address it moving forward.

  34. ArtK*

    OP1: Since it’s clear you and your team can’t depend on John, then don’t. Work around him. No more requests that won’t get done anyway. The CEO wants John, then the CEO gets John.

  35. Violet*

    LW 2. I have multiple disabilities. And I spend a lot of time being told if I was really too sick to work I shouldn’t be swimming/going for a walk/whatever. If people who are sick are unable to do things like that they will never get better or acheive any sort of quality of life. We are expected to be at home and constantly miserable to be “worthy” of any sort of public funds. And if we try and do stuff for ourself in anyway we get punished by a ridicolous points system (at least that is how it works in the UK I have no idea about the US).

    “oh you don’t look sick” is something I hear a lot. And if I go swimming I am then unable to do anything else for the rest of the day but if i do not get any excercise I gain weight which adds to my health issues (both mental and physical) and I am unable to stay at least fit enough to function.

    I obviously do not know the circumstances of the specific case if she has for example claimed she has broken multiple bones and is unable to move that would be one thing. If LW does not know I would err on the side of caution.

    1. Lizcase*

      my doctors and I have figured out that exercising every day is crucial to maintaining my ability to function.

      I’m too sick NOT to exercise, and the more days I miss, the sicker I get.

  36. NaoNao*

    I think one thing that people aren’t quite articulating here is that (in my mind) it’s somewhat fair to expect parallelism in work and personal life especially as an adult–kind of like how when I was sick off school the policy in my household was “if you’re too ill to go to school, you’re too ill to participate in normal social stuff after the day you missed.”

    So if you’re too ill to work, despite what others have pointed out about doctor-prescribed exercise, mental stuff, etc, you’re too ill to have fun. Now do I agree with this…eh, partly.

    The employee being out on FMLA is causing a disruption at work, and the *appearance* is that it’s not causing a parallel disruption in the missing employee’s life. Of course it is, we know that logically, but seeing someone playing tennis, which let’s face it, is a pretty intense exercise that almost any serious illness of the body would exclude, looks like this employee is carrying on as normal, but somehow found a “loophole” to do the “fun parts” of life: exercise, socialization, not working, etc–while not only do the other employees not have that loophole but they have to make up for the work “Jane” is missing while she plays tennis. Honestly it would burn my preserves too, against my better nature.

    But also, if exercise is so key, and she’s broke or this health club is the only option, how about she strap on a pair of running shoes and go for a free jog? Do some yoga in her house with free YouTube videos? Get an inexpensive pair of weights off Marketplace or wherever and do a routine? I raise a pretty serious eyebrow that tennis at the employee gym and socializing is the *only* option for this exercise that the employee needs for their mental health or recovery.

      1. Gyne*

        Really? Tennis has a lot of higher intensity running than jogging and also a lot of bending, changing direction, and upper body strength and mobility. We used to jog or run to warm up for tennis practice and also did sprints back and forth across the court. I’m stretching to come up with a reason someone couldn’t walk or jog but could play tennis…

        1. Observer*

          Because of the social aspect? Because jogging is repetitive? Because tennis has a higher cardio impact?

          I don’t know, and neither do you.

          It’s really disheartening to see how many people are trying to justify telling strangers that they handling their medical leave incorrectly.

        2. Quill*

          Maybe it’s not a case of “can’t” do an exercise, but which excercise is best for recovery? Plenty of aspects of physical therapy involve working on the injury in a controlled setting and building up strength. I can totally see a situation where short bursts of running and using the upper body would be working on the issue and a continuous neighborhood walk or jog would not.

          Also, having played tennis, very badly, on a team – we don’t actually know how intense these tennis sessions get. Sometimes people are playing to win and other times it’s politely passing the ball back and forth across the net without any running involved. I’m personally unable to run more than a handful of steps and I’ve played tennis like this: I just lose a lot.

          1. Gyne*

            Really good point about the various ways of playing tennis – I was picturing a competitive adult league of some kind, but it very easily could be “social hour holding a racquet.”

            In any case, it’s pretty well established that Delilah’s coworkers are acting like jerks here. If we charitably make the assumption Delilah is on leave and playing tennis for legit reasons, we can also extend grace to the coworkers that maybe being overwhelmed with providing coverage they are not their best selves right now. And that OP and the other managers are doing their best to reassign tasks and coverage and find a temp but it isn’t happening. I think the best suggestions in the commentariat so far have been for management to model reframing of the reasons someone might need leave and reinforce that it would be also available to the covering coworkers if they needed it.

    1. My Useless 2 Cents*

      This is close to my take. Logically I’d understand Jane can’t work but may still be able to play tennis. Emotionally (especially if I was under extra stress because I was covering for Jane) I’d be upset to see her come in to work to play tennis.

      There really isn’t a good solution but it would be a kindness to Jane if someone explained the optics are really bad and it would be better to find an exercise outside the company gym. But it really needs to be a peer. No one even remotely management, as that has it’s own optics problems.

      1. Stuff*

        Or management can step in and inform her coworkers they will start facing disciplinary actions if the gossip continues.

        1. My Useless 2 Cents*

          A lecture from management doesn’t change the optics or the grudgy resentment directed toward Jane. If anything it would make it worse. As I said, logically I’d understand but resentment is an emotion not logic. All a coworker knows is Jane is unable to work but comes in to play tennis. That will build resentment in anyone covering Janes duties on top of their own work. The only other thing that might mitigate growing resentment would be a full explanation of why Jane is unable to work; but I do not feel Jane should have to disclose that. Which brings us right back around to someone (not management) speaking with Jane as to why the optics of coming in to play tennis while on leave is bad.

          Any way you spin this, it is not a good situation (for Jane or coworkers)

          1. Stuff*

            I mean, as a manager, I’d be documenting this with write ups as instances of bigotry, and, if necessary, escalate to firing. She hasn’t done anything wrong, and ableist gossip shouldn’t be any more accepted than racist or misogynist gossip. If that means getting rid of people to make a point, so be it. I do not care about sparing the feelings of resentful people.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Honestly, this sounds super ableist. People with chronic and long-term illnesses get judged all the time by the standards of “when I had a day of work as a kid I wasn’t allowed to go to a party”, and it’s horrible. Nobody should have to scrutinise their actions from the perspective of someone indulging their meanest thoughts about them.

    3. Stuff*

      It’s not just about getting exercise, it’s about getting exercise you actually enjoy. The more you enjoy exercise, the better able to are to actually keep up an exercise routine, and the less likely you are to gradually drop off. Also, the more you enjoy it, the better the mental health benefits. When exercise feels like a chore, it’s much harder, much more exhausting, not as beneficial, and less likely to last as a routine. So if she’s been playing tennis for years. and likes tennis, she really needs to play tennis, not adopt some other form of exercise just because people want to be judgemental.

      Also, FMLA might actually be so that she can care for a family member, rather than herself. It’s been pointed out many times that she could be on mental health leave, not physical health leave, but she could also not be ill at all and still legitimately be on FMLA. Nobody knows, and nobody needs to know. So not only is “any serious bodily injury would preclude playing tennis” medically incorrect information, it’s also irrelevant.

    4. Parakeet*

      But…why should she have to jog or do yoga instead of play tennis? I get the frustration. I get the optics concerns though I don’t think the worker needs to cater to them. I also get that “just hire a temp,” which is a common line in this comment section, isn’t plausible for every time of job. But sometimes, if people are resentful, it’s on them to manage that. And there’s still things that most employers could do to lighten the load for other workers, even if they can’t hire a temp. When I’ve been on temporarily short-staffed teams where it wasn’t clear how long the short staffing would last, in reasonably functional organizations, managers have cut back non-priority/non-urgent projects and programs for the team for a while. There aren’t a ton of teams out there where there’s nothing at all that could be cut back or slowed down for a few months, in all the work that they do.

      Also you’re describing wildly different types of exercise, that engage different muscles and physiological functions.

  37. Synergy*

    For OP1, most contractors have leeway to subcontract and set their own deadlines. So it’s not odd to push back on an deadline or discuss delegating work (not excusing the other behavior though). Maybe you need to hire a full time employee if you have a lot of work that requires a quick turnaround.

  38. TX_Trucker*

    On #1, does John “need” to do anything work related? I can’t tell from your letter what his role is supposed to be. If he is supposed to be a contributor, for your mental well being it may be best to pretend he doesn’t exist and let him collect a pay check with as little interaction as possible. Don’t cover for him, but don’t go to him either. If his responsibilities aren’t handled, that’s on the CEO to fix. If John is a manager, it becomes a bit tougher to ignore him, but I would try to bypass him as much as possible. It offends my sensibilities to give this advice. But if your CEO isn’t willing to change, you are the one suffering frustration – not John.

  39. Kez*

    Re: Medical Leave Facilities/Gym Usage

    I wonder if OP2 would be interested in using this as a starting-point for building some healthier norms in their workplace around talking about health and disability. I don’t know your position, OP, so obviously some of this might not be within your power, but some things that came to mind for me when hearing about the complaints (and escalating those complaints to management):

    1. Reframing, in the moment, the way that folks are seeing this. This leave isn’t just “time off” or even “sick time” per se. It’s an accommodation for a serious health condition. You might be jealous of a coworker getting a new ergonomic chair or keyboard, but it would be weird to complain as if their using it while around coworkers was somehow gauche. Same thing if someone at your workplace needed to start using a wheelchair on some days because of mobility issues – are we really going to complain that the office needs to install ramps because it inconveniences us to use the side entrance while construction is happening?
    2. Rather than worrying about Delilah’s “bad optics” for using the facilities she pays to access during a recovery we don’t know anything about, where’s the concern for the “bad optics” of gossiping about a sick coworker because of frustration about your own workload? As a disabled person myself, hearing others talk behind the back of someone on leave would really dismay me and make me feel like I couldn’t take the leave I might need if an issue were to arise in the future. I think management should be thinking more seriously about the kind of work environment these complaints are creating with regard to health and disability. Emphasizing how the employer is supporting people in recovering at their own pace and in remaining a part of the community/benefiting from facilities even when they aren’t feeling well could remind people that Delilah isn’t getting something they can’t have. She’s just using the same resources they would have access to in her position.
    3. After addressing some of the ableism inherent to these complaints, can we find the root issue and address that without pretending this is about “optics” or “fairness”? As other commenters have pointed out, it sounds like the real frustration is about coverage. I think that management needs to step up and shut down the complaints about a coworker’s accommodations and address the elephant in the room of workload expectations. It sounds like, as is extremely common in the case of medical leave, the employer isn’t entirely sure when Delilah will be returning to work. This is causing tension for employees, who experience a certain amount of stress and instability because they don’t know what to expect. Could something like a more formalized “coverage plan” be developed (in this case or in future cases) with stages of different supports for the team that are triggered by certain benchmarks? This doesn’t have to mean hiring a temp right away, but might mean that if the team is short-staffed for more than X weeks or the backlog of Y gets to a certain point then the organization will either lengthen deadlines for certain things or bring in someone from another (less short-staffed) team to temporarily handle certain tasks that they can be trained on easily.

    At the end of the day, I see this as much less of a problem for Delilah and a lot more of a problem for the culture of your workplace. If management really wants to prevent these tensions from creating a pervasive culture of ableism and resentment, there are some steps to take immediately to prevent this festering and some steps in the longer term that need to be planned to prevent things from getting to this point again.

    1. bamcheeks*

      >> where’s the concern for the “bad optics” of gossiping about a sick coworker because of frustration about your own workload

      YES, I was trying to figure out how to articulate this and failing, but this is perfect. Thank you!

    2. OP2*

      “I think management should be thinking more seriously about the kind of work environment these complaints are creating with regard to health and disability” — thank you for this, you are spot on.

      1. Kez*

        Happy to help! I know that any one individual is limited in the impact they can have, especially given how the broader culture and the world teach us to make assumptions about health and disability, but having even one person speak up and make the connection between this kind of gossip and our culture of blame around health and disability can make a huge difference.

        If I were Delilah, I would be glad to know I had a colleague like you who was taking the time to think on this and take the steps that bring your workplace closer to being a welcoming environment for people no matter their health and disability status. I wish you all the best of luck!

    3. Despachito*

      I think that you are right that while the gossip is a bad thing, the solution would not be just to shut it down (and otherwise do nothing and let the employees be overwhelmed with work), but to shut it down AND make sure Delilah’s absence does not affect their own workload.

      Otherwise, the employees would sadly have a point, although misdirected (instead of Delilah, they should be targeting the managers)

  40. My Useless 2 Cents*

    OP4, Had a similar situation at my company but with an entire dept. CEO even thought we were bullying dept! But we literally couldn’t get anything out of dept to do our jobs properly. They were constantly lying, or changing the “process” so it was us problem or our error. Finally dept manager left and CEO had to step in to cover and realize what a dumpster fire that dept was and finally implemented changes. He truly couldn’t see it before even though people who never complained were LOUDLY complaining. It was very disappointing and CEO’s reputation has never fully recovered.

  41. Relentlessly Socratic*

    I have an invisible, chronic illness.

    Nothing, and I mean nothing sucks more than feeling like crud and having judgy people judge me. Except having to take on the emotional labor of protecting the delicate sensibilities of other grown people while I’m trying to recover. That sucks more.

    1. Different Day, Same Crap*

      Yep, like using a handicapped parking space, with the placard properly displayed, and having some nosy busybody confront me about it. I have zero patience with this nonsense, and said if you want my chronic heart condition, you can have it. I look good but I ain’t.

      I feel you, Relentlessly. Unfortunately, people are petty and heartless and are going to judge Delilah. They will need to grow a thick skin when they return to work.

  42. Chocolate eclair*

    #2 So maybe my companies FMLA rules are just company wide but when I met with HR before going out on FMLA (pregnancy, and another time for Chemo) I was told I could not use any Company Equipment/facilities while on leave. The theory was to not allow employees/managers to have the person on leave doing work while they are out.

    1. BellyButton*

      Because the employees pays for the gym membership I don’t think that rule applies, unless the company pays a portion of the monthly fee?? It is something worth exploring.

  43. BellyButton*

    Since the CEO seems to be aware of John’s poor performance and bad attitude I would ask him how he wants me to manage this among the team. “CEO, John’s poor performance and attitude is causing issues among the team. If you plan on renewing his contract again, I need direction on how to navigate this?” and then no matter what he says I would then ask “Is this a conversation you are willing to have with the team.”

    LW has pointed everything out but nothing has changed. They don’t have the power to change it, so put it on the person who does.

  44. Fuel Injector*

    #2 – Coworker on extended leave using the sports facility.

    A lot of people have pointed out extended leave could cover mental health recovery. It could also cover sobriety, possibly including rehab. If LW wants to say something to someone, I suggest going to management (or HR, depending on the nature of HR at their workplace) to discuss their concerns surrounding the gossip and how the nature of Delilah’s leave could be sensitive.

  45. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    LW1, there is nothing worse than someone can’t/won’t do their job, and is protected by someone very high up in the Food Chain. It demoralizes the rest of the Team, and creates a toxic culture. The problem is that John has the CEO’s protection, and unless he does something catastrophic which the CEO has no choice but to address, John will remain “The Golden Child.” It’s up to you how much more you are willing to put up with, because this isn’t going to change. I have seen Executive Leaders allow their “special friends” to drive talent and customers away, with negative financial results on the company, yet that person stays, even though the company is spiraling to bankruptcy, largely due to the “The Golden Child.”

  46. Elizabeth West*

    #5, go ahead and ask the coworker! It can’t hurt and if you can be a reference for them, it could help them as well. My old supervisor and I have agreed to be perpetual references for each other as long as necessary. So far I haven’t had to do it for her, but she gave me a great ref for this job and I would gladly return the favor anytime.

    It’s worth maintaining those connections in your network anyway. One of you might even find something at a company where the other person would be a great fit and then you could be coworkers again. :)

  47. Dawn*

    LW1: The only thing I can think of that might shift things at this point would be if several of you were ready to leave over John’s behaviour, and expressed this to the CEO as a group.

    I know that’s not exactly the safest thing so you’d have to weigh the circumstances, but it might motivate him to realize that there’s a real cost to keeping him on.

    1. Former_Employee*

      That’s what I was thinking. If the CEO discovered that the rest of the team or a significant number of them were ready to leave, that might make a difference.

      If the CEO still didn’t budge, then everyone should leave ASAP, because it means something very strange is going on. (Is John the CEO’s long lost brother?)

  48. Forgetful Manager*

    LW#4 – Speak up! Back when I was a baby manager we hired on a new person at $X with a promise to move to $X+Y after 90 days. Well 90 days roll around and I’m in the middle of several big projects and guess what I forgot to do? (I’ve since learned to set myself way more calendar reminders). When my new hire reminded me I felt terrible that I had forgotten and processed the increase immediately!

  49. House On The Rock*

    I find that while managers are (usually) pretty good about understanding rules around medical leave/FMLA/disability, people who have not had direct exposure to managing it are not (even employees who have taken it themselves). I recently had to be very firm with an employee that speculation around a coworker’s leave status, return, and ability to work were not appropriate and would not be tolerated. For LW2 it might help for your organization’s HR or Operations group to do some general education, in addition to having management shut down gossip and speculation. In my situation I found that the speculator really had no idea that I couldn’t share details about someone’s condition and that it wasn’t appropriate to ask me about it. One thing that helped was having an HR partner who is fantastic, and who is happy to have busy bodies sent her way for education.

    Also I’d be very leery of anyone who works for the company saying anything to Delilah about the optics of her using the on site facility. That could very easily blow back on the company.

  50. Delphine*

    Sometimes (and I’m sure I’ve been part of the problem before) the black-and-white thinking in this comment section can be…divorced from reality. There are no villains in letter #2. There are people experiencing life events and people experiencing human emotions and it is possible to accommodate everyone and feel empathy for everyone.

    It *is* a miserable experience taking on another person’s workload on top of your own full-time job, especially when there’s no end in sight. People who find themselves in such a position may, on occasion, let resentment get the better of them. A good company would make sure that Delilah’s coworkers aren’t burning out or struggling in other ways.

    Delilah is perfectly within her rights to use the sports center during her sick leave and no one should ask her to stop or treat her in any way differently for exercising. Sick leave doesn’t mean she’s bedridden or homebound.

    1. OP2*

      Thank you for your insight, Delphine. Your analysis is why I wrote in — I could see both sides, and there was a major grey area I couldn’t quite delineate, regardless of how much sympathy I have for Delilah. I’m grateful for all the feedback today, especially given the parts of the picture I left out (including that we are in a country with a robust social net, so people can go on sick leave for 1 1/2 years or more and have their job held for them… and not be replaced).

    2. Courageous cat*

      “Sometimes (and I’m sure I’ve been part of the problem before) the black-and-white thinking in this comment section can be…divorced from reality.”
      ^ Agreed.

      Of course in a completely just world people would be completely understanding of Delilah, but we’re humans, we’re fallible, and we live in a society. Of *course* she has the right to use the tennis court, and should do so if it helps. And, additionally, of *course* some overworked people are going to be upset about it – and they’re not completely, 100% out of their gourd for experiencing that feeling. Some are bound to think she could be lying or exaggerating an illness or taking advantage of the situation. It’s just kind of how people are/how life is. It’s messy, and not everyone is going to respond perfectly to every situation.

      Delilah should use the tennis court if she wants to use the tennis court. I will say, were I in that position, I’d be hyper-aware of the optics of it and you wouldn’t catch me anywhere near the courts, for this reason.

  51. Octopus*

    why are we focusing on asking Delihah to change and not a simple statement to the upset coworkers that it might be doctor approved/suggested/etc? the emphasis shouldn’t be on the person suffering to make more changes but instead on educating others to be empathetic decent humans

  52. Former_Employee*

    I worked in an area of financial services that required a fair amount of technical and analytic skills to perform the job. There was no way the company could hire a temp while someone was out on maternity leave. Someone would have to train them and they might be at the point where they could do basic tasks on their own about the time the person on leave returned.

    The idea that the company would hire an extra employee who would be available in case someone went out on leave made no sense.

    If someone gave notice or didn’t come back after a leave, the company would hire someone to replace them. At that point, the time it would take to train the new person would be worth it.

  53. Mothman*

    What I find interesting about #2 is that a) she’s using an on-site facility and b) she’s doing it when she knows other people from her work will be there.

    As for A, when I’ve had coworkers on extended medical leave before, work-related contact (including being on-site for anything other than essential business) wasn’t allowed. And having her there when her coworkers will also be there gets into the area of work-related conversation by default.

    As for B, something just feels odd there.

    I actually do think a conversation needs to happen with her (by an appropriate person), but the idea that she could be lying should never be even hinted at. I had classmates and teachers accuse me of lying about an incredibly painful and debilitating disease when I was a kid because I “looked fine.” Now, it’s happening again, but thank God for working from home! That scarred me into not asking for help, though.

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