How do I handle an emplyee who walked out, then tried to change her mind
November 17, 2014 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Employee H was incommunicado over the weekend, having sold all her belongings and skipped town, leaving me with a minor mess to handle. She left her work phone and company keys on her desk for me to find today, and planned on giving me no notice, or anything.

While driving to wherever with her boyfriend, her plans fell through and she decided to NOT quit, and got her co-worker to recover the phone and keys so that I wouldn't know, and she could keep her job. (co-worker told me everything, because she's honest).

She's obviously unstable; there have been other dramas with her recently. She's got a turbulent private life. I want to be kind and help if I can, but I also need stable, responsible employees.

I really need her, but who knows what she'll pull next?!

My supervisor is out today, and said we would address later this afternoon or tomorrow, but in the mean time, she's here at her desk, hasn't come to see me, even to talk about the many messages I left over the weekend regarding the minor mess I mentioned above. I just don't know how to face her or how to act until my supervisor gets back to take formal action.

Any advice would be helpful, thanks
posted by hollyanderbody to Work & Money (71 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't hesitate in firing her. You may "need" her, but you don't need all the drama and lack of responsibility that she brings. Fire her, finds someone else to replace her. It sounds like you're going to have to soon anyway because she'll probably leave (again) at the next opportunity. Clear it with your supervisor first, sure, but start preparing a new job posting.

As for "in the meantime" I would just let her ignore that it happened. This is going to come crashing down around her once your supervisor gives the go ahead for firing her, so no point in opening that can of worms now.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:48 AM on November 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

If Employee H has tasks that need to be done and can be done with a minimum of supervision from you, let her do them. Take care of the mess yourself. If H approaches you, just say, "I'm busy. We'll talk about this tomorrow. Work on [other task] for now."
posted by Etrigan at 11:50 AM on November 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Fire her. Are the keys H left on her desk required to access the area where her desk is located? If so, it's clear what her intentions were. That's not a decision one gets to take back. You have no guarantee she won't pull this kind of stunt again.

Good on the co-worker for letting you know. Don't let on that she was the one to tell you.
posted by tckma at 11:51 AM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Definitely fire her.
posted by Perplexity at 11:52 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Other posters have great advice, but I just have to be the devils advocate...

Can you clarify if she was supposed to be working this weekend? Because if not, and she was merely gone from Friday PM- Monday AM when she had no official duties, she has potentially done nothing wrong, and the other "honest" co-worker could actually just be gossiping and drama-mongering.
posted by fermezporte at 11:52 AM on November 17, 2014 [58 favorites]

She's obviously unstable; there have been other dramas with her recently. She's got a turbulent private life.

You need to define "unstable." You have one appropriate definition here - she didn't do some sort of task that you wanted her to do over the weekend and didn't communicate her unavailability to you. However, your other notes are irrelevant. An employee's personal life - turbulent or not - is not your concern. An employee's belongings - many or few - is not your concern. Being concerned about these things is actually a liability to your company, and action on your part to fire her for those reasons should be appropriately rejected by your company's HR/Legal departments.

You need to figure out if the single professional misstep you've identified here (the unavailability over the weekend) is sufficient to fire her. That's maybe easy (if your company expects availability every weekend and this weekend was communicated clearly well in advance of it) or maybe difficult (if weekend availability is the exception rather than the norm or if you weren't clear that you wanted her to be available). However, it's not obvious at all to me that firing her is definitely necessary. You're focusing far too much on what she's doing outside of work rather than what she's doing at her work.
posted by saeculorum at 11:54 AM on November 17, 2014 [51 favorites]

If your supervisor is the one responsible for taking formal action, do what Etrigan said, act normal, don't discuss anything but necessary work stuff with her, try to expel thoughts of her private life and speculation about future fuckups from your head, and let your supervisor deal with it when they get back.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:07 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Was there some reason that she had a responsibility to be reachable over the weekend? In most cases, it's an employee's right to be in communicado outside working hours. It sounds to me like you've let yourself get in a dither which makes her actual offenses seem worse than they have been.

This is not to say she's blameless, or that you should keep her on, but if she was at work on Friday and she's at work today, what part of her problems have to do with you?
posted by SemiSalt at 12:11 PM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also being the devils advocate...

Some people learn life's lessons the hard way. Your employee might or might not have learned a lesson from whatever went on over the weekend. If a lesson was learned, and you fire her anyways, then you are losing an employee who may have changed for the better as a result of events. Sometimes people take the long route to learn responsibility.

If it is a pattern of behaviour, that's a different matter.
posted by jgreco at 12:12 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone,
here are some clarifying details:
She IS expected to be available by phone for questions or crises. The minor mess that I was calling her about was a failure in scheduling on her part. I was calling her to find out who was supposed to be working, turns out no-one was scheduled. that was her dropped ball.

Regarding my "unstable" characterization: She called out last Monday because she had to go to a nearby city to recover her repossessed vehicle. She disappeared from work Friday due to having a miscarriage. (but was maybe preparing to skip town).

I know we can't take action for things in her personal life, this is just to paint a picture. Also, she previously gave notice due to being pregnant, and boyfriend getting a job in another state (which later fell through so she rescinded her notice).

Thanks everyone. I'll just play it cool and not get into it till my sup gets back.
posted by hollyanderbody at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would favorite saeculorum's comment a dozen times if I could, but to riff on it a little:

You're worried that she's going to leave you in the lurch again. That's a perfectly valid fear. But any of your employees might do that (intentionally or not), and you should always be planning for them to. If the minor mess she left you to handle was a mess because she left, then that's your fault (or your mutual supervisor's, if you're not actually her direct supervisor) -- you should have had a plan in case she'd been hit by the proverbial bus.

So if you find yourself unable to get over what she did, channel that energy into correcting your processes to minimize the chance of one employee causing a mess next time.
posted by Etrigan at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

The question here is, from a legal standpoint, did she quit. If she quit, she should stay quit and you have no reason to re-hire her. If she didn't quit and you're going to fire her (which is reasonable, I think), then you're going to have to do the firing stuff: That is, she's entitled to notice, pay in lieu of notice, severance, or whatever else she gets in your jurisdiction.

She doesn't seem like she has her act together enough to contact a lawyer, but if you want to be cautious I would find out if what she did qualifies indisputably as quitting and if so, and you do not want her back, decline to rehire her. If it doesn't and you don't want her back, you can fire her, but make sure you fire her right. She has no legal obligation to give you notice, but you probably have legal obligation to give her notice.

Whether you shouldn't want her back...well it depends if it's a pattern. Anyway can have their moment of extreme stress and life stuff. You don't have to be a pushover, but it's ok to be compassionate if you think there's cause and if you think your compassion won't bite you in the ass.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:18 PM on November 17, 2014

If it were me - I'd stay away from H and avoid talking to her or confronting her, and instead think about what you're going to tell your supervisor. Your supervisor may end up looking to you to decide whether to keep her or fire her - what would you tell them if they ask?

On preview - she had a miscarriage??? At work??? For real? And she's back at work today on Monday?

I would definitely pass the ball to your supervisor on this one. In fact - I would rank this as "call supervisor at home"-level difficulty.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2014 [37 favorites]

It sounds like this person is having a really hard time in their life right now. Maybe consider how you'd be feeling. As someone who's been around someone that thought they might be having a miscarriage (and ultimately was fine) I can't even imagine how it would make you feel. If there's a long pattern of behavior that is actually detrimental to their work quality, fine, but give it some thought.
posted by selfnoise at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry -- she was emotionally unstable this weekend because she had a miscarriage? Am I reading that wrong?

OF COURSE SHE WAS UNSTABLE. Cut her some slack.
posted by AmandaA at 12:23 PM on November 17, 2014 [85 favorites]

Also, have you had disciplinary discussions with this employee in the past? It really is best to try to resolve issues through dialogue... even if it doesn't work, it creates a paper trail.
posted by selfnoise at 12:24 PM on November 17, 2014

My god, this employee has just indicated to you that she is unreliable. Period. Consider it a warning.

Deal with it now, or deal with it at a potentially future date when the circumstances may even be worse.

You have a business to run and it's your job to ensure that it's operated well. She will look after her interests and she's shown you that. You have to look after yours.
posted by eas98 at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

OK, just saw your update. If you decline to rehire her or fire her because of instability that amount to A) Being poor and B) Having a miscarriage "on friday" then I would think that represents a difficult to forgive lack of compassion.

I think it's pretty outrageous that you were calling her this weekend after she had a miscarriage on Friday. Yes, it may have been a mess she made (possibly while miscarrying), but she had a miscarriage on Friday, do the humane thing and clean it up yourself even if you didn't make it yourself. And who the hell knows what kind of hormonal crap is going on three days after a miscarriage, not to mention emotional stuff due to bereavement.

I think you need to understand and expect that the people working for you are people, not just workers.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:25 PM on November 17, 2014 [95 favorites]

I would turf the decision on this to your higher-up, but the sort of duplicity you know of and the larger amount you suspect would personally make me concerned about this person having keys to come and go as they please. This person could need your support or this person could be in a downward spiral and maybe it's your company's possessions that get sold off before skipping town next.

I don't know what your company's situation is. I realize the attitude on metafilter is that we should always support everyone in crisis regardless of other repercussions, but if this person's issues endanger your ability to keep another half-dozen people employed I would seriously question if they still need unfettered access to the office.
posted by phearlez at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2014

Presumably the OP is operating under the assumption that the miscarriage was fake? Otherwise I don't understand why her inability to be 100% available over the weekend would be notable or actionable.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

If the unreliability is related to incidents over just one month or less, there's a chance that her life will calm down.
posted by amtho at 12:30 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

These are facts as I understand them:

1.) The employee is generally expected to be available for questions on off-hours.

2.) The employee failed to do her job during work hours (leaving a scheduling gap). This failure was the reason why OP needed to call employee over the weekend.

3.) Employee was not available to be contacted, therefore failing to live up to expectation #1.

These facts, completely leaving out the personal stuff which isn't OP's business, and additionally even leaving out the quitting/not quitting (which very much is OP's business), seem like plenty good reason to fire someone. Whether they are enough to count as "for cause" or whatever legal standard might be needed to be met in OP's jurisdiction is not something I can address.

But if it were me, OP, I'd spend my time waiting for supervisor by drafting a new job posting to replace this employee ASAP.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:36 PM on November 17, 2014

I was all set to say that you should fire her. Then upon reading your update about her having a miscarriage on a Friday and then "disappearing" from work that day and your characterization as that being an example of her being unstable...well, that makes me question your judgment. Leave this to your supervisor.
posted by teamnap at 12:39 PM on November 17, 2014 [37 favorites]

To me this depends entirely on what you and she do for a living and what standards are like in your field.

It's always struck me as awful and unfair that people who work in low-level poorly compensated service jobs get basically no slack to ever mess up. While people in white collar professional jobs are basically un-fireable.

I also think people tend to overreact in situations that are really more about office politics and feeling slighted, and not really important in the grand scheme. There's a huge difference, to me, if this employee is a nurse who is expected to manage a complicated schedule that, if there are mistakes, means patients with life-threatening health issues might go un-treated, vs. for example the bar manager at Chili's (where fucking up the weekend schedule is a matter of five minutes of inconvenience).

It's probably obvious from my tone here that I think you should go easy on your employee (assuming nobody died, the company didn't lose millions of dollars, etc). Everybody makes mistakes, and it sounds like this person has enough going on in her life right now and doesn't need to add severe job trouble to the list.

Also, it's unclear what your employee "pulled" to begin with aside from borking the weekend staffing schedule. It's uncharitable to see messy life stuff as this person deliberately getting one over on you, especially if it doesn't translate directly to serious workplace problems (aside from general inconvenience/tedium)
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on November 17, 2014 [17 favorites]

Was the employee supposed to be on the job this weekend? If not, then what's the problem? I'm a software developer and I'm incommunicado on weekends -- because my contract doesn't specify anything but 40 hours/week.
posted by starbreaker at 12:47 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm absolutely gobsmacked by many of the responses.

Years ago, when I got too wrapped up with work and started worrying about what everyone else was or was not doing, one of my directors pulled me aside and said, "Did a baby die? No? Then it'll be OK."

In your coworker's case, a baby actually died.

You are not her supervisor. You have no business to weigh in on firing or lecturing or making judgments about her. She just had a miscarriage. And even if she didn't, it sounds like she could use a little human kindness in what is likely a pivotal moment in her life.
posted by mochapickle at 12:51 PM on November 17, 2014 [23 favorites]

Response by poster: Everyone who's scolding me: I WANT to help her, as I said in my question. And no I wasn't demanding that she work after a miscarriage. I was calling her to ask her who was on the schedule, which is a normal, routine sort of communication in this work.
posted by hollyanderbody at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to help her, don't fire her. Wait until your supervisor gets back and discuss your options. I can't figure out what is really going on here with this employee or with you as her boss, but I think involving a third party in the decision of what to do is your best option.
posted by something something at 1:00 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I had just had a miscarriage, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be answering work phone calls the day after. If you knew this was why she had gone home, I think you should have found another way to clear up the schedule without bothering her. I don't think what she has done is sackable. Also, are you just relying on other co-worker's word about her skipping town? Do you have any other evidence? I'd be reluctant to take action against her without it.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2014 [34 favorites]

I was calling her to ask her who was on the schedule, which is a normal, routine sort of communication in this work.

I'm glad you want to help her and sorry that I used the phrase "difficult to forgive lack of compassion" if you do. However, what I think you're still missing is that

A) Having a miscarriage and not being in communication in the two days after that is not behaviour that can fairly be characterized as "unstable." If those are the best examples you can come up with of her unreliability, she has not been unreliable lately.

B) While calling to ask her who is on schedule might be "normal routine communication", it is not reasonable for you to ask for normal or routine communication in the two days after her miscarriage. If you can't figure out who's scheduled, schedule someone. If two people come in, deal with it. Do not call the recently bereaved and ask them routine work questions. Leave the recently bereaved alone, and if you absolutely must be in touch, do it by sending flowers or a sympathy card, not by calling to ask about work.

C) Whether you or your supervisor were demanding it or not, she IS working today, three days after a miscarriage. That represents a ridiculous amount of stability and commitment and it absolutely doesn't seem fair to characterize someone who does that as unstable or unreliable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2014 [101 favorites]

My suggestion would be that the next time somebody experiences a major bereavement and/or medical emergency on a Friday, and you need to find out information over the weekend, try calling other people besides the person who is in crisis. In this case, maybe calling the other people who could have been on the schedule to find out if they were on it would have been the answer.

The best way of helping this employee, and others in your office, is to improve your problem-solving skills.
posted by tel3path at 1:03 PM on November 17, 2014 [29 favorites]

I'm sorry, but anyone who chooses to quit by just leaving their shit on their desk and falling off the grid is not anyone I would let work for me. She clearly cannot be trusted.

If your supervisor can deal with it today and already talked to you about this plan, just don't get involved. Let your supervisor deal with it. You may want to help her, but she probably won't want your help. I had an employee who was fired, not by me, and I really wanted to help her and be there for her. Well, once she was fired, she wanted nothing to do with me, her boss. I would let the higher-ups deal with this how they see fit and don't interfere. After it's handled, you can email her or something and see if she wants any help from you or to talk with you about it. Just give her the option and let her choose.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:06 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Judge her based on her work. If you were aware of her personal situation, then really it's you who dropped the ball, not her.

You should talk to her and ask her how you can help her achieve your mutual goals. Be reasonable. Be understanding.

The fact that you're burying the miscarriage lede here says something to me about how you've really not taken care in handling your responsibilities here. Yet, you're still around. Shouldn't she be, too?
posted by inturnaround at 1:06 PM on November 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

If I had a miscarriage (at work!!) on a Friday and then my coworker left me multiple messages (!!) about something as simple as who was scheduled to work on the weekend I would be so pissed. Give this woman some space and time. It may be inconvenient for a while but it's also the right thing to do.
posted by hepta at 1:08 PM on November 17, 2014 [34 favorites]

mochapickle, I too am 'gobsmacked' by some of the responses here. I've long wondered if some people just post something without reading the entire thread - maybe it's because of that?

I'm not a doctor, but I question whether or not H should even be back at work on Monday after suffering a miscarriage on Friday.

Maybe OP has already done this, but if was me I'd be on the phone to someone higher up in the company.
posted by doctor tough love at 1:12 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe she wasn't quitting. Maybe, while she was miscarrying, which can be a physically and emotionally devastating event (with the understanding that pregnant people are not a monolith and have a great variety of experience) she went out the door without thinking. An awful lot of the interpretation of this is based on speculation. Maybe you should ask her what she needs, or wait for your supervisor and keep your eyes on your own paper for the next day.
posted by gingerest at 1:13 PM on November 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

I've commented already, but I was just thinking:

I had a death in the family last year, and a colleague who had been ambivalent about me (at best) showed me a great deal of warmth and support during an obviously difficult time. She even called me over the holidays because she knew they'd be tough for me.

As a result, she has my unwavering loyalty. I speak well of her to management. I make extra time for her. I ask to work with her on projects. I do extra tasks for her to make her projects more successful.

It costs you nothing to act in a way that's compassionate and kind, and you may be rewarded for it.
posted by mochapickle at 1:15 PM on November 17, 2014 [33 favorites]

I think waiting for your supervisor is the best course of action here.

In general though, you could go 2 ways. You can be the person who resented her and got her fired at a low point, or you could be the person who was nice and got a super loyal and grateful employee out of it:

1. Continue being upset, mad at her, try to get her fired for her conduct in what is clearly not a great time in her life. Wait for her to come to you and apologize and see if you can do without her in a busy time.

2. Reach out to her with extra kindness, privately and say "hey, sounds like you have a lot going on right now and I understand that. Do you think you can handle doing work xyz? We are happy to have you on the team still."

Even if plan 2 doesn't work and she screws up on the job, doesn't turn around into a better employee, etc, I think you will feel better for having given her a chance during this crappy period in her life. And you can still be looking for new employees in the meantime in case she doesn't get better.
posted by rmless at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

If someone I worked with had a miscarriage and went home early, I'd make sure they were off the on-call rotation and that someone covered for them, and that no one called them about anything, and I'd probably give them at least a few days off.

if she had a miscarriage and you called her multiple times on the weekend about work related stuff, she'd have been well within her rights to tell you to take the job and shove it. I'm surprised she came in to work at all on monday.
posted by empath at 1:36 PM on November 17, 2014 [38 favorites]

I don't know what country or state you're in, or any other circumstances of this company or position. But considering firing a woman one business day after a miscarriage gives this lawyer heart palpitations. Please wait for your supervisor.

Sidenote: a miscarriage is rarely ever a "::snaps fingers:: oh, guess the pregnancy is over now" situation - the process can last several days or even weeks and may warrant a trip to the emergency room or an abortion to fully remove the tissue. So she didn't just "have a miscarriage" on Friday, she likely experienced a miscarriage over the entire weekend and is still experiencing it now at her desk.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:10 PM on November 17, 2014 [38 favorites]

A moderator must have removed my earlier comment (presumably thought I was too unkind in describing the OP's baffling reaction to her co-worker's tragedy). Here's the gentler version:

Your company could have serious legal exposure under the FMLA and Title VII if you or anyone else takes adverse action against this woman. If the company is going to take any action, it will want to consult legal counsel. You shouldn't do anything. You should defer to your supervisor.
posted by ewiar at 2:12 PM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Assuming that the miscarriage was actually real, that is sad and tragic and she really needs to be cut some slack..

However, it also seems like this "traumatized" employee was able to: 1.) sell all her belongings and skip town, 2.) go into the office and quit (drop off keys/phone with the intention of never coming back).

It doesn't seem like this is a woman who was physically or mentally incapable of doing her job -- especially since I'll bet that the fuck-up in question (not scheduling for the weekend) happened before the supposed miscarriage.

OP, I think that you can be forgiven for not treating the miscarriage as a mitigating factor here, as it doesn't seem to have stopped this employee from performing in ways that benefited her. BUT I think it would be smart, when you talk to your supervisor, to keep things just to the way that the employee has been fucking up/been unreliable at work.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:12 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of what-ifs in this, and frankly, if she gave an excuse on Friday that would preclude her being available in any way on the weekend (whether or not it was true) and she showed up on Monday morning and got to work. Frankly, there's nothing there.

You can't act on gossip. You shouldn't even repeat it. In relaying this story to your supervisor all you can say is, "Helene left here on Friday afternoon, claiming she was having a medical emergency. I tried to reach her over the weekend, but I wasn't able to reach her. It was mildly inconvenient for me. She was here on time on Monday morning." Those are the only observable facts you have.

What we suspect is that she's trying to bolt out of this job and that she's have no compunction about leaving you in the lurch. So you would be smart manager if you started planning for the inevitable. Get everyone cross-trained on all functions of the job and make it so that if heaven-forbid someone gets hit by that bus, you're not standing in a crater crying. It'll suck, but you have plan b firmly in place.

Backing off is the right answer. So hang in there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:18 PM on November 17, 2014 [23 favorites]

I'm somewhat confused by how the "sold all her belongings and skipped town" story and the miscarriage story fit together. Did she do both in the same weekend? It's not our place to speculate, but the first scenario paints the picture of an unreliable employee and the second is clearly someone who needs compassion and a little slack. I think it's likely that she's unreliable and needs some slack right now; is there any way you can temporarily reduce her responsibilities? That way you won't have to deal with her flaking, and she can decompress. Everyone wins. Maybe she'll need to be fired at some point, but please, not in the immediate wake of a miscarriage.

Talk to her. Better yet, have your supervisor talk to her. Find out what happened in her words, to the extent that she's comfortable talking about it, and work together to come up with a plan so this won't happen again in an emergency.

I'd personally give her a break this time, but make it clear that she can't mess up like this again.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:26 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, I had an employee have a miscarriage. She didn't tell me, her boss, but I did hear through other people. She continued to do her job. She missed a a couple days of work, notifying me and seemed a little down, but she handled it very professionally by communicating her absence and continued to work.

To me, the miscarriage seems a bit of a red herring here. Obviously, no one is going to fire someone for having a miscarriage and I'm not sure not answering her phone over the weekend is a huge deal. But planning to skip town and just leaving all her stuff there, and then recruiting a co-worker to cover it up after an abrupt mind change is not really appropriate. And considering it sounds like she skipped work because her car got repossessed before any of this happened, OP isn't painting a great picture of this person's reliability.

I think this is really for OP's boss to handle. I do think someone should talk to her, get her story and be supportive, whether she is fired or not. But if I were OP, I'd stay out of the decision to fire or not fire, and then offer support after the boss handles it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:42 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

"...having sold all her belongings and skipped town"

Seems like deliberate language by the OP to turn up the drama. Maybe she was planning to move with her boyfriend and jettisoned some furniture and other unneeded items? That's not too bad, and doesn't indicate the instability you're trying to paint. "Sold all her belongings"? I'd love to know how she managed that. I've been trying for YEARS to sell most of my belongings and can't fathom doing so in a short period of time.

Whether the miscarriage was a fake-out or not, it's clear that your coworker is going through a rough patch and probably could use a friend right now.
posted by elken at 2:52 PM on November 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

OP, you need to improve your problem-solving skills. Quickly. To start with, you could think about how to re-write your original post in a way that includes all of the pertinent information. The answers you've gotten here have been all over the place, and rightfully so, because you've led us all over the place.

Your effectiveness in solving this problem, as compassionately as it deserves to be solved, depends on your ability to first describe it accurately.

I'm writing this with the best of intent to help you solve your problem.
posted by Dashy at 2:56 PM on November 17, 2014 [31 favorites]

Is it at all appropriate to decide to fire someone without notice because of gossip?
posted by spunweb at 3:23 PM on November 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am uncomfortable with the contempt for this woman that is coming through in your post, and I think you should step back from decisions about her future at this job. You are not sounding objective. Your negative feelings about her are getting in the way of your professional status. Frankly, you are sounding a bit gossipy and judgmental about her personal life, over what seem to be minor professional offenses.

Did she quit? I don't think you can prove that. You have no firsthand knowledge of it.

Is messing up the schedule once a fireable offense? I don't know; you should ask your supervisor.

Is being unreachable on a weekend, once, after having notified you of a medical emergency, a fireable offense? I don't know; you should ask your supervisor.

Is being a woman with money trouble, man trouble, emotional trouble, and reproductive trouble, or a messy personal life a fireable offense? I hope you know the answer.

I'm not seeing what the huge emergency is for you. What's the big deal? So, let's say your evaluation is correct and she is an unreliable employee who will one day up and quit with no notice. I can't imagine this would be the first time in your company's history that's happened. Will the company fall apart while you hire someone new? Do you expect everyone who works there to stay forever? Are you paying them enough to make long-term committment a realistic expectation?

It sounds like you are offended by her actions and really want her gone, and I think you should take a deep breath and ask yourself why that is. It's probably best to leave the decision to someone who can evaluate this more objectively.
posted by kapers at 3:23 PM on November 17, 2014 [38 favorites]

If there's no emergency, see how her work and behavior is over the coming couple weeks, what could it possibly hurt? People have made good points about the miscarriage and stuff, but in general, even if mistakes were made--well, you've mentioned a temper problem in your question history and you seem really worked up. Don't decide about this while you're upset. Wait until you've got a cool enough head to figure out whether this is really a long-term pattern that is resulting in poor work quality and thus requires action on your part, or not.
posted by Sequence at 3:30 PM on November 17, 2014

It sounds to me like you are taking this very personally, and as if you resent this employee quite a bit. It makes me wonder if you are dealing with a toxic workplace. Are you by any chance in a position where you have very little power but are apt to be stuck with a lot of blame? If so, that's not this employee's fault. She doesn't sound like a horrible employee, not from what you've detailed here. Mind you, a lot of bosses would simply not have reinstated her the first time she gave notice, because they don't want people who are back and forth about whether they want to work for them. But other than that, you haven't mentioned any chronic problems with lateless, no-shows or whatever. Whatever you do, I don't think it's right to fire her because of this one incident, which involves a health problem and hearsay.
posted by BibiRose at 4:16 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think your are missing an opportunity to exercise part of your management role, which is to make sure she gets with HR to access any Employee Assistance Programs, health insurance/benefits programs that could apply...or even show her how to leverage any PTO to get some time off and come back to work with head together.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:39 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

So I've worked with two women who had "miscarriages" at work, both of which later turned out to be lies used to get out of work. I work in healthcare where it's really not okay to leave work unless there is a serious emergency (like a miscarriage).

In an ideal world you would 100% trust your employees when they feel the need to provide personal reasons for missing work. I understand where you are coming from OP.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:52 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why would you wait for her to come to you? You're a manager, I presume? Be one. That means talking to your employees. But give her the benefit of the doubt when you do talk to her. She's just experienced a kind of medical emergency and probably needs some care and understanding from you. So, go and have a chat with her and see how she's going. Not just because it's the decent thing to do, but also because it's in your best interest and the business' best interest that your employees feel like you care about their wellbeing. Don't take her actions personally (if she did indeed do what this other employee told you), but do try to find a way to meet everyone's needs. I wouldn't fire her in this instance.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:59 PM on November 17, 2014

Why would you wait for her to come to you? You're a manager, I presume? Be one.

That's the thing. From the question and the followups, it doesn't sound like OP is actually H's direct manager. After mention of OP's supervisor being the one who would take formal action, it sounds like OP is perhaps more senior but does not have management authority.

Perhaps this is incorrect?
posted by mochapickle at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2014

Yeah, I am unsure about this too. If the OP is not employee H's manager, I don't understand why she is posting the question. In that case, it would come across as very bitter and if I was the supervisor, I'd be pissed off that someone was trying to do my job.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:25 PM on November 17, 2014

If the OP is not employee H's manager, I don't understand why she is posting the question.

It's very common to have people that report to you but that you don't have sole authority to fire. I have 3 minions like that myself.
posted by ftm at 5:30 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

One thing that really sticks out to me is that it seems like you are putting way too much stock into what the other coworker said. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the only objective facts you have (meaning not delivered by this coworker) is that H had a miscarriage on Friday, was unavailable during the 48 hours after her miscarriage, and then showed up and started doing her job again on Monday. Even if this did lead to some scheduling problems over the weekend, this really seems like she handled this situation as well as possible.

I mean, if someone's child died, would you consider firing them if they left you in the lurch scheduling-wise? I'm assuming not, and I think most if not all women who experienced a miscarriage would consider the situations essentially synonymous. Hell, even if this were an unwanted pregnancy, having a miscarriage is still stressful from both an emotional and physical perspective.

I also just feel like something doesn't add up here. Do you have any evidence of her selling all her belongings, skipping town, and planning to walk out on the job aside from hearsay?

it seems totally possible that there was some kind of miscommunication or maybe this other coworker was stirring up drama with the whole "H was planning to just walk out on you" thing. Or, alternately, maybe in the middle of her miscarriage, she said "fuck it, I'm quitting" then she got a better handle on things and changed her mind.

In any case, I really don't think you should base any of your actions off of what other coworker told you, and I also don't think you should take other coworker's word as gospel without some concrete evidence to back it up. In your position, I would wait until your supervisor weighs in, but I would also try to examine where your feelings towards H are coming from, because it seems like you are reacting rather uncharitably towards her. Maybe it's with good reason, but either way, it's something to be aware of, because I think that's what a lot of comments here are responding to.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:28 PM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

She left her work phone and company keys on her desk for me to find today...

Given that she left no note or message indicating that she was actually quitting, I think it's more likely that she just forgot to take this stuff with her when she rushed out the door in the middle of her miscarriage.

Forgetting to take your work keys and phone with you in the middle of a medical emergency is a perfectly understandable thing to do and in no way should be considered an offense worth disciplining -- much less firing -- an employee over!
posted by Jacqueline at 6:30 PM on November 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

Nthing what has been said above:

do you have first-hand knowledge on all this, or are you relying on "co-worker"? I've learned as a boss to take these kind of stories only as clues that need corroborating with 1st-hand observation or evidence. More than once the truth has come out, and the truth is that co-worker is handing you a bunch of assumptions dressed up as "facts," or sometimes out-and-out lies. There are people in the workplace who live to create drama, and seem to create situations where it's not at all clear how it benefits them to do so.

Definitely wait for YOUR boss to act, and in the process of describing things to him or her be very careful to report stories as stories, not as if you saw the behavior: "X said they saw person in question do such and such," not "person in question did such and such," unless you saw it yourself.

And bazillion-Nthing - if she did have a miscarriage, now is not a good time to judge her actions. Even if what she did WAS unquestionably wrong, I'd observe carefully and wait for future misbehaviors.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:42 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

She's got a turbulent private life.

None of your business.

I was calling her to ask her who was on the schedule, which is a normal, routine sort of communication in this work.

Where are your contingency plans?

While driving to wherever with her boyfriend, her plans fell through and she decided to NOT quit, and got her co-worker to recover the phone and keys so that I wouldn't know, and she could keep her job. (co-worker told me everything, because she's honest).

How do you know that? You have no evidence of any of that at all.

she's here at her desk, hasn't come to see me, even to talk about the many messages I left over the weekend regarding the minor mess I mentioned above.

Maybe she was otherwise preoccupied with her miscarriage over the weekend. Maybe she is grieving. Maybe she just wants to get on with her job now. Maybe she expects you to be organized enough to have a contingency plan in place so that you didn't have to leave many messages over the weekend while she was experiencing a personal major mess.
posted by heyjude at 6:47 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

How do you know that she sold all of her belongings? (Honest question, not snark).

I mean, yikes. A miscarriage certainly explains her leaving in a hurry and being out of touch over the weekend and I don't think she should have to grovel about it today, either. I don't think you should be second-guessing whether or not she had a miscarriage as some folks here are starting to suggest--there lies the end of human decency.

I guess the weird thing about this question is that you don't mention a pattern of unreliability (besides her personal life, which I agree is none of your business.) If she's been flaky from the start, then that's one thing and it would be a problem, but if it was just this weekend then why aren't you cutting her a break in light of what she's going through? (This is also an honest question--I assume that you have your reasons, but it's not clear in the question what they are.)

Also, as an aside, I feel like any coworker who would voluntarily tell you all of this about another coworker is not so much 'honest' as 'drama mongering.' She could just as easily have refused to grab the keys and get involved when H called her, or told you that H had contacted her but she'd rather you just spoke directly with H rather than getting involved as an intermediary/informant. It's just a really weird dynamic and it seems likely that she's the type to exaggerate things.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:09 PM on November 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

This question and the follow up are entirely unprofessional. I am not a lawyer, but you are now arguably on the record for conflating "having a miscarriage" with "being unreliable" and wanting to fire her *for that reason.* If your company does proceed toward firing this person, then (a) have them consult a lawyer, and (b) show him / her this question. Just as it's not legal to say "we don't hire women because the potential for them to get pregnant makes them less reliable," I strongly suspect one can't fire someone for their "unreliability" due to miscarriage. In my opinion, whatever professional veneer you all might try to put on this is belied by this question, which reveals your real rationale.
posted by salvia at 7:29 PM on November 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Also, you might want to consider the implications of revealing this person's private life on the Internet. What if someone knew enough of the story to recognize this person but was not aware of her miscarriage? I don't know the HR laws around privacy regarding medical matters, but ... I'm pretty sure there are some. Ask your supervisor to provide your organization with some training in these areas.
posted by salvia at 7:32 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, as an aside, I feel like any coworker who would voluntarily tell you all of this about another coworker is not so much 'honest' as 'drama mongering.'

This is worth repeating. If a coworker called me up and asked me to cover for them like this, I would just tell them "no can do" unless we were very close and there were specific circumstances in which I felt okay about doing it, in which case I would do it for them and not go tattling to the manager.

I don't want to harp on this, but it's honestly really troubling to me that in your original post you didn't seem fit to mention the miscarriage and that you aren't willing to cut this women a whole load of slack under the circumstances.

Even the non-miscarriage things you mention don't seem like major red flags. Okay, her car got repossessed and her boyfriend's job fell through. It sounds like her personal life is a bit messy, but whose isn't? I guess if you are working in acute care or something where availability and reliability are paramount then this could be a thing, but if this is some admin or service job or whatever, then I really think you are making way too much of this.

It's not entirely clear where you stand in the hierarchy of all of this, but I'm wondering if you've recently been promoted to some managerial position and/or if you are feeling anxiety about getting in trouble if H screws up, because it sounds like you are reacting very strongly to things that don't really directly involve you (other than you having to work on the scheduling thing this weekend). Your question essentially boils down to: how do I handle this situation that happened over the weekend, is no longer an issue, and that my supervisor told me not to deal with.

Anyway, sorry to pile on (twice), but I think you'll benefit from trying to examine your part in all of this and what's caused you to react in this way, especially since you say you want to help H out and being able to separate yourself from the situation and look at things more objectively will probably be very helpful.

(It's also worth considering the fact that miscarriages are inherently a gendered "issue" for lack of a better way to express it, so I think that's why this is a big trigger in terms of people worrying about legal action and generally feeling like you're being very unfair to H.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:29 PM on November 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

Is she paid extra for being on call? No? Then you were out of line expecting her to work over the weekend anyway.

But she left Friday with what amounts to a serious freaking health issue and you're reacting as if it's all about you? You're lucky the doctor even allowed her to be at work today.

The way this sounds, she may have reason to come back on you and your workplace for this - and quite possibly rightly so. Add in that the only place you're getting private personal info is through the office grapevine from someone she thought she could trust - and obviously can't - and this just raises all sorts of hackles.

Keep in mind, the situation could have been - and likely her doctor would have preferred - that she not work today, and you simply would receive a note stating that she is under a doctor's orders not to. It would be no business of yours why.
posted by stormyteal at 9:36 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Emotions seem to be running high in some of the comments on the thread here. I think the confusing part is that it's unclear whether or not this woman officially did quit. I mean she was only gone for the weekend, was back at work on Monday, and even though it's common for many employees to be on call weekends we don't know what her OFFICIAL weekend duties are. Furthermore it seems a lot of your information- that she sold her belongings and meant to skip town etc, cannot be proven anyway. What if it's not even true or the whole story?

A miscarriage early-on in a pregnancy is not usually a big deal health-wise. In fact many women experience them and don't even realize they are miscarrying. They just think they're having a heavier than usual period. The person can often physically be at work a day or two later, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a very big deal emotionally. Emotionally it is a huge deal. It would make complete sense if she didn't answer any work calls. I know you're saying it may not have even happened, but what if it is the truth?

If she did not have a miscarriage I guess that means she's still pregnant (since she told you she was pregnant a while back I'm assuming the pregnancy was/is real) then I can see the fear of her skipping town again since according to you that was her original plan. To leave town with her bf.

Based on all the uncertainties, I would advise against firing her. However I would prepare a job description, job posting and any training schedule that might be needed for a replacement etc just in case. If you still have many doubts feel free to talk to your supervisor FIRST before doing anything.
posted by rancher at 9:37 PM on November 17, 2014

If she told you she was pregnant "a while back" then we are left to assume she is well past the "late heavy period" stage. Common practice is to announce a pregnancy after 12 weeks... If she was 12 weeks a while back?! Speaking as a person who was recently pregnant, miscarriage of a post 12 wk pregnancy is a HUGE deal both emotionally and medically. I sure as hell wouldn't be answering work calls, and I can't believe she's at work today. When my coworker miscarried she was out for a month and we sent her flowers.

Give her the rest of the week off paid to rest and sort herself out, tell the coworker not to gossip, and otherwise mind your own business. Cross train your employees since the proverbial bus can hit anyone at any time.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:50 PM on November 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

OP, think of yourself at the low point of your life--past or future--and think how you would want to be treated if your life seemed to be falling apart AND you lost a baby. Giver her a break. If she keeps screwing up you can take action then.
posted by LarryC at 12:05 AM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

She may have been on pain medication after having the miscarriage. Even if she wasn't, she was most likely devastated and not able to take phone calls. Having you call her, knowing her situation, was probably enough to make her want to quit. But, it doesn't seem like she can at this time. Poor lady. The right thing to do would be to give her a few weeks paid medical leave so that she can recover. As far as today goes, please go apologize to her for trying to get in touch with her over the weekend and let her go home with pay until you can talk to your supervisor.
posted by myselfasme at 5:49 AM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I can't get this thread out of my mind since reading it yesterday. I feel so sorry for this woman. Giving you the benefit of the doubt that you don't understand or haven't tried to understand what a miscarriage means emotionally and physically... I currently have a small baby at home. If I had had a miscarriage, I know I would have spent several months wanting to die from the sorrow.

You say she hasn't spoken to you about the weekend. That isn't because she's ashamed of not responding. It's because you've done something unforgivable by pestering her over a minor problem even though you knew her situation, and now she's trying to ignore you, rather than confront you about it. Please apologize, honestly, and give her some space at work.
posted by mirabelle at 12:42 PM on November 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

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