Why Do I Have to go to Mandatory Counseling?

Last Updated Aug 20, 2010 6:05 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have just had an email from my HR department to inform me that since I had 28 days off sick in the last financial year (to 31 July), I have a mandated meeting with an outsourced counselor to discuss the 'issues' and 'matters going forward and preventing recurrences'.
My problem with this is that 25 days of this sick leave resulted from a traffic accident in which the park'n'ride bus in which I was a passenger skidded on black ice and crashed, and in which I broke my wrist so badly it required surgery, wiring and subsequent rehabilitative therapy. Other than that, I had 3 days off sick for the year, due to i) a heavy cold and ii) food poisoning. I had 4 days off sick last year, and 3 the year before that.
HR know all about this. They have received letters from the admitting emergency department, my surgeon and my physical therapist - I know this since I had to sign a release. Do you have any idea why they may be asking me to do this.? It seems a terrible waste of money for me to have to see an outsourced counselor to discuss 'future issues' and 'avoiding recurrences', when I had no control over the incident in the first place and have no intention of breaking my wrist again if I can possibly help it. Obviously, if I have to go I have to go, but is there any point do you think in emailing them and saying this?
Nope. No point in e-mailing them and pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation. In fact, the person who sent you the e-mail and set up the appointment probably thinks the situation is ridiculous as well. Except, it's highly possible that the person (or automated computer) who sent out the e-mail has no idea who you are or why you were off for so many days. There is probably a query that HR runs on days off and everyone with over X sick days gets an appointment scheduled.

It's a good idea and a bad idea. On the one hand, it frees up HR people to do things that actually help the business--developing people, succession planning, and a bunch of other stuff--instead of having to go line by line down a list and determine who needs counseling and who does not. The HR computer system can be set up to spit out a list so an administrative person can schedule appointments.

On the other hand, it makes employees feel like they are a number, and that no one actually read all that boatload of paperwork HR made them fill out. And, the last thing you want is for your employees to feel like a number. It's quite demoralizing to think you have someone who understands your problem and then you get a demand for something that no one in their right mind would ask you to do if they truly understood your situation. It's unpleasant.

If I were you, I'd just go into the appointment cheerily. The counselor will likely find your situation as ridiculous as you do. If the counselor doesn't, though, have fun with it. You can say things like, "So, I should avoid park'n'ride buses when there is black ice? But you can't see black ice, so how can I know? Can you help me with that?"

There is an exception to the don't-bother-to-bring-this-up-to-HR-rule--if you have a good, joking relationship with the HR person that sent it and she knows your history. Then you can e-mail her back and say, "Really, Karen? I need counseling to help prevent further accidents? Wouldn't additional driving training for the bus driver be more appropriate here?" But, that's ONLY if you have a really great relationship, which I doubt you do, or you wouldn't be writing me.

And keep in mind, some senior HR people are so caught up in making sure every rule is followed that they would never approve an exception for you. So, as I said, have a nice chat with the counselor and laugh about this with your co-workers.

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