My Boss Picks on Me

Last Updated Sep 17, 2010 6:43 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am considered to be an exempt employee for a small company (family owned) with less than 25 employees. I have been working for them for over 10 years now. The original hours worked and paid time off has changed several times over the years but nothing was ever put in writing such as a employee handbook.
The owner wants to deduct for 1/2 day for vacation time for doctors appointment when I left at 2 pm! 1/2 day would be 12 noon not 2 pm. Besides, the time was made up by working late and not taking lunch (I kept personal track of it). He doesn't treat other employees the same way, which is not right especially since I am the highest paid employee in the company and also bring in the biggest revenues.
If you've worked at a family owned company for 10 years, I'm going to assume the owner has remained the same. If it was Dad and now it's Son, then this advice likely won't apply. But, as a general rule, people don't just do things randomly. That means, the boss didn't say, "I'm going to put everyone's name into a hat. Whoever I pull out will have to use vacation time for doctor's appointments! Bwa-ha-ha!" No. If you are the only one being treated like that, there is a reason.

So, let's find out what that reason is. Here are some questions to ask yourself (and your boss) when you start getting treated differently. This isn't to assign blame. It's to figure out the whys.

  1. Are you somehow different than your coworkers? I'm not talking about race or gender or age. After all, there would have been differences in that area years ago if your boss was, say, a racist. (True, you're older now, but so is he, which is why I discount the possibly of age discrimination going on here.) Stop and think, what are you doing that your coworkers do not do? Do you come in later? Leave earlier? Not participate in happy hours? Have more appointments? Look around and see if there are some significant differences.
  2. What changes have you made recently? This is similar to the previous question. Have you made any changes recently? This doctor's appointment that your boss decided to deduct vacation time for, was it the third in a month? You bring in the biggest revenues, but have they dropped recently?
  3. What changes has the business undergone? Have total revenues declined? Has there been turnover? Has the business been short-staffed? Have a lot of people been taking vacation time? Has there been a mini flu epidemic amongst your coworkers?
  4. Has the boss had any major changes? New wife? New House? Kid sent off to college? I realize none of things sound like things that would cause him to change his mind about how he handles time off, but they can all add stress. Any major expense for a small business owner can cause the owner to start worrying about income. If you bring in the most money and you're at the doctor then he's freaking out because HOW WILL HE PAY THAT NEW MORTGAGE!!!
  5. Has your relationship with the boss changed? Did something happen that changed they way you interact? Did you have an argument over something? Disagree about how to treat a client?
Okay, now that you've had a chance to figure out where your boss might be coming from, you need to talk to him. Based on what you think the problem is, you'll want to approach it from a different way. For example, if you figure out that the boss just bought a new super expensive house or that revenues over all are lower, you'll approach it from a finance viewpoint.

"Hey Bob, I've been here 10 years and this is the first time I've had vacation time deducted when I've had a doctor's appointment. I know you're concerned about finances, but even if I'm gone for a couple of hours during the day, you can rest assured that I'm putting in the time and effort needed to get the job done."

Or, if this is your third doctor's appointment in a month, then, "Hey Bob, I'm really sorry I've been out so much. It's this root canal. Who knew that a 15 year old filing could fall out and cause all these problems? I was a little shocked that you want to count the appointments against my vacation. We've never done that before, so it caught me by surprise."

Or, if your performance has recently changed: "Bob, can we talk? I'm feeling like I'm not living up to your expectations. Can we go over my goals and revenue targets and make sure we're on the same page? I was kind of shocked when you wanted to deduct vacation time when I was at the doctor's office. I'm wondering if this change has been related to my performance."

The advantage of this is that you are approaching the issue with the viewpoint of the most likely cause. Hopefully this will open up a dialogue between the two of you. During the dialogue you can address whether or not this is a change in policy. (Most people agree that an exempt employee can have vacation time docked to cover a partial day absence, but it certainly doesn't have to be. And I'd be extra annoyed if I was gone for 2 hours and 4 hours were deducted.) If he says it's new policy, then volunteer to write it up and send it to the entire office. This act will uncover for sure if he's treating you differently than everybody else.

Keep in mind that this change is a symptom of another problem and not the problem itself. Work through to solve the underlying problem and you won't have to worry about taking vacation time for your flu shot, which will be coming up shortly.

Illustration by Oldmaison, Flickr cc 2.0