What are the attendance rules if you're sick?

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(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I work in a small department of a very large company, and we have very strict paid-time off (PTO) rules and guidelines that I feel my manager applies to most, but not all, employees. There is an employee that has the same job title as I do, with the exact same amount of PTO days. But she has a chronic illness and is sick so often that she has been absent for twice the amount of days allotted per year. 

Her PTO time has been used for numerous vacations and numerous trips to the hospital. My manager has made it perfectly clear that he will track other employees' PTO to the second but that her time is "untrackable." It is obvious that she is using her illness as a "get out of jail free" card. She has been working an average of only three-and-a-half to four days per week but getting paid for five full days of work as a salaried employee for almost two years now. When I approach my manager about how this upsets other employees and how it affects the distribution of work, he denies that it is even happening and tells me that it is my perception. 

I have been tracking her time for months and I can tell you that it is most certainly not my perception. As an employee with a chronic illness, does she have the right to come and go as she pleases? What are my rights? And what is the best way for me to handle this situation?

I'll answer your last question first. The best way to handle this is to stop tracking your coworker's time. It is not your problem. Your boss is aware that she's out of the office. You've informed him that it is a problem. Now your part is done. Finished. If you don't like it, you can start looking for a new job, either in a new company or in another department within the company.

What are your rights? You have the right to be paid for any work you do. Presuming you're exempt, you have the right to the same paycheck every pay period and any vacation, 401k matches or bonus payments as per company policy. You don't have the right to a competent, hardworking coworker.

You are spending a tremendous amount of emotional energy worrying about something that you have no control over. This is draining, and makes your job much more difficult than it should be. Should your boss be ignoring your coworker? Of course not. And when you're the boss you can handle the situation, but you're not.

Additionally, your boss may be (gasp!) handling this correctly.

Depending on what your co-worker's doctor has said, she may be entitled to what is called "Intermittent FMLA." Most of us are familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act as something that you can use to take 12 weeks off for a new baby, or for cancer treatment or another serious disease. It's used consecutively, and after 12 weeks you come back or you're terminated.

However, there's another aspect of FMLA that allows you to take 60 days (12 weeks x 5 days per week=60 days) total throughout the year to deal with your illness (or your family member's illness.) There are 52 weeks in a year, so it's possible that your coworker is allowed under the law to take off one day per week every single week of the year.

Some companies require that you use your PTO time first with your FMLA time. That is, if you have 20 PTO days, the first 20 days of FMLA you receive pay as part of PTO, and then when you are done with your FMLA leave you have no vacation left. Other companies don't require this, or require that you use only half of your PTO time. That is up to company policy and not dictated by law.

Additionally, some companies have a policy to continue to pay people when they are out sick, as long as it isn't more than "x" number of days consecutively. By taking off one day per week, your coworker could fall into that category and get paid for her entire time and have vacation days left as well. But for all you know, she's maxed out her PTO and is having full days deducted out of her paycheck for now. Unless you're running payroll, you don't know squat about that. 

So to make a long story short, your boss is telling you to back off. He's handling this, and it's highly possible that your boss is following both the law and company policy. In the meantime you're complaining that she gets extra time for fun things like hospital visits. Really? Would you like to trade with her?

The only aspect of this is workload. If you cannot handle your workload for whatever reason, you can go to your boss and say, "I need you to help me prioritize because I will not be able to accomplish A, B, C, and D this week. What should I cut out?" Your coworker's name need not come up.

If your coworker is throwing work on you, then say you can't do it. If she persists, quote Miss Manners: "I'm sorry, but it simply isn't possible." Then direct her toward your boss's office and let him parse out the workload.

But stop tracking her hours. Stop checking her cube to see if she's there. Let it go. It's not your problem. 

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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