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My Coworkers are Abusing the System

Dear Evil HR Lady, My supervisor has about 1/3 of his large staff (50+) on Family Medical Leave (FMLA). They use it intermittently, which means that they are not out for weeks at a time, but, rather, take what time they need when they need it. For the majority, when any of them call in, it is always on a Friday or a Monday and it happens over and over, but nothing is ever done about it. In particular, I have one coworker whose abuse of FMLA and complete arrogance towards any rules goes beyond comprehension. He arrives at work late, then stands around and chats with the people for 15, 20, or even 30 minutes or longer before he starts any work. Other times, he will make it look like he's working and continue to talk, talk, talk, but management rarely says anything to him. He frequently leaves the floor and has been caught watching television and eating when he should be working. Why can't a company get rid of someone like this? It certainly isn't fair to the company or the people who have to work along side him. Especially the ones who are not on FMLA. Can this continue or would it be better for myself and my coworkers to look for work elsewhere? I don't see this guy getting fired in the immediate future. This whole situation is driving me and some of my coworkers nuts. Administering an intermittent FMLA can be a complicated thing. It also makes managers and HR people nervous because it can be a Big Deal if you do it wrong. It sounds like your management feels that someone who is protected under one law (FMLA) cannot be disciplined or terminated. This is wrong. Everybody can be fired.

But, it is also irrelevant to your life. The reality is you have no idea what your coworkers' medical situations are. I would guess that with that high of a percentage of people utilizing FMLA, that some of them are not terribly ill, but I don't know. Furthermore, neither your manager nor your Human Resources department are capable of diagnosing medical conditions. They have to rely upon the judgment of the doctors that filled out the necessary paperwork. Even though it may seem obvious to you that they are exaggerating their conditions, you don't want medical decisions made by non-medical personnel.

There are lots of things they should be doing, but they aren't and you can't make them. So, yes, I think you and your coworkers should start looking for new jobs where managers have the guts to tell someone to stop talking and get back to work, and don't ignore people who watch television when they should be working.

You can go to your supervisor and make statements about how your life is being affected and ask for solutions. For instance, you can say, "We're falling behind on the production line because so many people are calling in sick on Fridays. What changes can we make to help us keep production levels up?" You can't say, "I think Paul and Jenny are lying about being sick. Have you noticed how they are always sick on Fridays?" Trust me, you boss notices. The whole management team notices; they are just choosing not to act on it in a way that is visible to you. (And they well could be acting on it in ways that aren't visible to you. Coworkers seldom know the extent to which a manager is handling a problem employee.)

But, if no improvements are forthcoming then yes, look elsewhere. Managers frequently make the mistake of being scared to handle a difficult situation, and thus drive away their good employees. (And yes, the situation is difficult. There are legal protections. Frequently illnesses that qualify for time off under FMLA also qualify for the Americans with Disabilities Act protection as well. And yes, you can still document poor work behavior and terminate people who qualify for both.) Theoretically, managers get paid more because they have to deal with the difficult situations. If yours aren't, find a company that will and then leave. The sad truth is, until some managers see the very real consequences of their mismanagement, they won't do anything.

Photo by el7bara, Flickr cc 2.0

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