Is your chronically ill coworker just gaming the system?

by Evil HR Lady on November 7, 2011

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Due to your advice, I landed a great job about a year ago. There is only one problem. I work for a small department, and we have a coworker, Jim, who is a very nice guy with a serious absentee problem. For example, this year to date, he has called in sick 32 times. (We have a shared calendar where we track sick days, vacation, events etc.) In addition to calling in sick, he is habitually late and during winter, he frequently calls in on snowy days and says he can’t make it in. (We have another staff member who lives in the same area who has no trouble.) Last week, during a rainy morning, he called to say that he was stuck in traffic so he was going to go back home and wait and try to come in again around 10 or 10:30 (he was due in at 8:30.) This is not the first time he has done this. He has also been caught sleeping in his office multiple times.

He is eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because he has irritable bowl syndrome (IBS). This affects me because Jim is supposed to work the closing shift with me. When he is gone, I am left alone and have to do all the closing duties. Our current manager says that nothing can be done because of FMLA. We’re in the process of hiring a new director.

First, does this seem like a legitimate FMLA situation? Second, when the new director gets hired, should we say something to him/ her about this situation or just let them see if for themselves? We don’t want to come off as complainers but this is bothering us all. With such a small staff, anytime one of us has to take a vacation or sick day, it’s always in the back of our minds, “What if Jim calls in, too?”

To read click here: Is your chronically ill coworker just gaming the system?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous November 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm

My advice would be to mind your own business. Your coworker, Jim may have an illness or problem that is causing the erratic behavior. You do not specify how Jim's actions impact you. Do you have to put in extra overtime to compensate for Jim? Does his absence cause you to miss deadlines? Honestly, your post sounds like you are just annoyed by Jim's actions. If Jim's problems do not impact you, shut up and focus on your work. Remember, you are only human. You are subject to same illnesses and problems as your coworker. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were in the same position.


Carm July 28, 2017 at 6:05 am

Unless you are in this persons shoes, you have no right to judge. You don’t know the suffering of this individual, so have some compassion and do your own job. Karma ….. you might be that sick person one day


Affiliated Physicians November 8, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I read Evil HR Lady's response on CBS News and she raises a great point. "Your problem is to do your job." It may be frustrating to have a coworker that is coming across as lazy, but don't assume you know the whole situation.


Carm July 28, 2017 at 6:08 am

Agree. Do not make assumptions. I was out sick for 7 days, in the hospital, and upon my return, I got the “stink eye” from individuals


Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Can you clarify what the manager is supposed to do if they really do feel the person is a slacker and taking advantage of the situation? Earlier you said if they have a doctor's note they shouldn't second guess a person with a medical degree, so how do you "handle the situation"?


Suzanne Lucas November 10, 2011 at 5:22 am

You deal with performance, period. You talk about what you expect performance wise and how he's not meeting those expectations.

Legally, you cannot hold time out of the office against the person, either. So it's just time in the office.


Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 11:42 pm

What do you do if his work performance is fine and the only issue is the amount of time he is missing? Assuming the time he is missing is covered by FMLA and has been approved by a doctor.


Evil HR Lady November 11, 2011 at 10:33 am

Not a thing. FMLA is a legal right. If his doctor approves the time off, you cannot hold it against him. Period. End of story.


Carm July 28, 2017 at 6:10 am

Absolutely. My employer is aware of my situation, but I continue to get “attitude” from others. Karma


Nicole September 24, 2016 at 2:34 pm

I too work with somone on FMLA and even before that they spent more time gone than at work. Our small department is over stressed, over worked and just plain exhausted because we are covering thier position and ours. I sympathize with them, but honestly I hurt every night because I’m doing my job and thier job. I’m not getting paid for doing double the work. When co woke is actually thier they spend all thier time whining thst people aren’t sympathetic enough because we don’t want to listen to a by blow of all thier medical issues, which changes constsntly. To hear them talk they are on thier death bed. But because of FMLA we are told there is nothing to be done.


Jackie April 2, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Sounds like my workplace. Welcome to drowning in a sea of apathy.


I don't track comments November 18, 2016 at 10:51 am

The people telling you to mind your own business are absolutely wrong. You did specify clearly how him being absent affects you and when someone calls in a rediculous 32 times and is constantly late and using weather as an excuse to not come to work then it’s time to fire him. This kind of BS crappy work ethic is only tolerated in a poorly managed department. Unions usually keep these leeches safe but there has to be a point when someone is told that there is no reason to employ a person who is not being an affective team player. Why does everyone else need to work harder for him. I have IBS and that is the biggest lie to say he needs FMLA. FMLA is for serious diseases that someone gets unexpectantly. It is not for someone to use constantly for IBS which can be controlled with diet and avoidance of triggers (I know it is a frustrating disease but it is very Common and nothing as serious as something needing FMLA) he sounds like a whiny baby with a garbage work ethic who is milking the system. People commenting that sympathize with him obviously are not having to work more to make up the slack he causes, you are. It is so easy and naive to sympathize with something that doesn’t affect you and imagine that everyone is good and never takes advantage of the system but from what you describe, he clearly is. Maybe some of these people are system abusers too. People who truely have chronic issues that are serious are easy to see and don’t call in because it’s snowy or there is traffic. They do it because they are in the hospital or bed ridden. America’s work force is becoming a joke. People call in because they are sad or they are just tired or some crap and then the poor worker who actually shows up has to pick up the slack and unions and terrible management allows it so the same people continue to manipulate the system. I work with a couple people like this too. They milk everything they can and will even post on Facebook of them out doing things when they are supposedly home with the flu ( I have had the flu before, I couldn’t get out of bed) we have union issues that prevent crap employees from being fired. It sucks but I’m stuck there till I can retire so I can’t do anything about it. There is nothing wrong with you venting about it but unfortunately if management sits on their thumbs then all you can do is leave the job or advise management every time his absence causes a problem. If they see problems are constantly linked to the same person being absent, maybe they will react eventually. It is’t right for him to collect a paycheck and take up a spot of employment when so many need jobs that are ready and willing to show up and do the job. People like him make me sick. If someone truely has a serious illness then that is a different situation but what you described, he is a lazy piece of sh!t with no work ethic and an ineffective management crew that lets an obvious problem continue.


Jackie April 2, 2019 at 3:25 pm

I have been dealing with the same issue for almost 5 years now. If he is unpaid for his absence that is one thing but when he shares his closing duties with the author and they both get paid, only he isn’t there? That’s demoralizing for the person who is. They start to question why they bother coming in either? Any idiot can work for a living!


No One in Particular October 19, 2017 at 1:37 am

How do you know what he was approved for FMLA for? That’s not for everyone to be in the know of, its between him, HR and his doctor. You can’t say someone isn’t seriously ill just because someone else you know has the same illness and they are fine. Not all people suffer the same symptoms in the same way. I would be careful with FMLA, its a federally protected right and doctor’s don’t just give it away, there are laws they have to follow. There are also laws the employers and coworkers must follow as well. Being ignorant of these laws is no excuse to the DOL. And complaining about the FMLA time or writing him up or even allowing another employee to give him a hard time about the days he takes off is a slippery and expensive legal slope you don’t want to go down. Mind your business.. be grateful for your health.. alternatively you could find another job if it’s that bad.


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