Argh help me deflect questions about my health at work
January 23, 2012 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I used my health as an excuse for something being late. This was a mistake. The door has opened to a question about the status of my health from someone who is my superior, but *not* my manager. How can I deflect their question?

I apologised for something being behind schedule at work and used sickness last year as an excuse. I got an email back from the superior-but-not-supervisor saying they knew about my health issues, but not what they were and asking if I was well, or if it was something that needed to be managed longer term, followed by a disclaimer saying I didn’t need to answer if I didn’t want to.

I know I was an idiot for using my health as an excuse, and would have been much better off saying nothing. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Sigh. I have a cordial professional relationship with the not-my-manager superior, and would like to acknowledge their concern, while firmly yet gracefully closing the door on further enquiries.

I feel like I’m in treacherous waters here. Throw me a life-line.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In the US this would be a guarded attempt to figure out whether you have a qualifying disability. I do not know if this would be true where you are from. I'd just walk right through this door they opened for you "a disclaimer saying I didn’t need to answer if I didn’t want to." with something like "The issue is under control. I'd prefer not to discuss it further. Thanks for your concern." You can temper it somewhat to be more or less friendly but if they said you don't have to answer, you don't.
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Thanks for your concern. It looks like things are going to be fine now."
posted by dayintoday at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

"Thanks for your email. It means a lot to me that you would be concerned. I'm well, and there's nothing that needs to be managed in the longer term. I will certainly let you know if anything like that comes up."
posted by OmieWise at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

"Thank you for asking, I'm doing well now." That's all. Superior gave you an out by saying you didn't need to go into it, so take it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes to the email, etc., but don't ever be late again or use illness, feigned or otherwise, as an excuse. Gracefully closing the door is one thing, but you opened it.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:06 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and you might want to make this anon--it's pathetically easy to find your name and job, etc.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:08 PM on January 23, 2012

Thanks for your concern - everything is fine now.
posted by mleigh at 6:21 PM on January 23, 2012

Thanks for your concern. It looks like things are going to be fine now. Fortunately it was a false alarm.
posted by mattoxic at 6:55 PM on January 23, 2012

I wouldn't necessarily jump to the conclusion that they're trying to find out information to use against you. They might just be concerned. I could see myself sending an email just like that and not even having it occur to me that it might be construed that way.

But if you're nervous, just use one of the many good suggestions here to say something along the lines of "it got sorted out and I'm just fine, thank you for asking!"
posted by lunasol at 7:16 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

'Thanks for your concern' sounds like a brush-off and isn't terribly friendly.

If this is someone you want to maintain a positive relationship with, you can just as easily say, 'I really appreciate your concern; things are OK now, but it's really nice to know that I have your support.'
posted by yellowcandy at 10:03 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Due diligence: I am not a manager at this time but I have management training in multiple US companies - we aren't allowed to talk about a lot of this in the training classes because it's illegal to do so especially in specific personnel cases. But managers and prospective managers talk (carpools, lunches, etc.), so you get a lay of the land anyway. Mostly in management training we cover the ADA and how big a sling it can put your ass in if you aren't careful as a manager to call HR immediately after this is raised by any employee. This response is informed by that training and background.

You ARE in treacherous waters. You have invoked what might be the ADA (assuming you're in the US). US companies don't have a choice but to respect the ADA - if they don't, they can be subject to very high, non-ignorable fines and penalties.

The trade-off here really depends on how valuable you are to the company and how much trouble you are making and what kind of support you have from senior/powerful folks at the company.

If you are not demonstrating value and you keep blaming stuff on (possibly ADA-covered) ability issues and a general layoff comes through and they can manage to lay you off without making any reference at all to your health or the ADA, they probably will. This is because folks who are not valuable and who are causing trouble and who have no friends are generally at risk of being laid off, and if you also end up laying off someone who continually invokes ADA/EEOC type legislation you're doing the company a favor, because laying you off ASAP means you are less likely to find a reason to be litigious.

If on the other hand you are demonstrating value and your company has a culture of valuing that or you have a sufficiently powerful sponsor (the person who is inquiring may be that person - do you know?), then you probably don't have to worry either way.

What happens when you invoke ADA is that the situation polarizes. Managers feel like they have to make a decision about you RIGHT NOW, which puts your late submission in a particularly disadvantageous light. So how are you doing otherwise with the job, your responsibilities and your other deliverables?

The other thing to consider is whether you like the job (including position, pay grade, actual work, title, etc.) enough to be stuck in it. Because if you do formally invoke the ADA it makes you a lot harder to fire. Firing you would take a lot of carefully gathered evidence and paperwork establishing shortfalls that are NOT related to whatever you're invoking the ADA about. But it also doesn't make managers predisposed to promote you either - in most companies invoking the ADA sends a particular message about the kind of person you are the kind of thing you're willing to do to force managers' hands and in general the same people who would promote you don't like to feel like you're making an issue of it and forcing them to do it this way.

The good news is though that they can't tell the next company you work for that this happened. Any referral that included any mention of the ADA or the issue you cited as being possibly ADA related would potentially be actionable if your lawyers got 'hold of it, so if they're smart they won't even try to communicate about it.

If you want to back away slowly, any of the tactful responses folks have suggested would work. If I were you, though, I'd suggest having lunch with the person who inquired with you and maybe try to suss out whether they could be your powerful friend.
posted by kalessin at 4:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

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