How do I approach a difficult situation at work?
June 16, 2015 10:12 PM   Subscribe

I recently got written up at work for having what my manager said were too many sick days. I didn't exceed the policy. How do I approach this?

Here are the facts:

- I had 9 sick days.
- 4 were due to a car accident which my manager told me specifically at the time were completely understandable given the severity of the wreck. She said another employee had a similar wreck and was out two weeks.
- I did not exceed my allowed number of sick days.
- The policy stipulates that a doctor's note can be requested by management.
- No one requested a doctor's note.
- I did not receive any kind of prior indication that I would be soon written up or that I was doing anything wrong.
- I always made up my work.
- I let them know first thing in the morning (no days where I just didn't show up without any communication).
- I do have a medical condition and could bring a doctor's note if needed.
- I literally had a doctor's appointment that day to get medication to treat my issue in order to decrease occurrences.
- I told her about my medical condition and that I was seeking treatment when she gave me the letter and she didn't seem to care.
- My job has a BS philosophy of putting people first. Clearly that's not how they actually operate (not just from personal experience but from what everyone else says as well).
-This is the second time I've been written up.
- This was the lowest level of write up so it doesn't fall under the guidelines for appeal. You basically just accept it. It does go on your record.

I have several issues with the way this was handled.

In my prior jobs, if a similar situation occurred (which it didn't), I fully believe my manager would've asked me if everything was OK and if there was something going on that they could help me with. It's the same approach I would take with an employee (I am a manager).

I cannot leave this job for at least another six months to a year for personal reasons. This means that I also cannot afford to get fired.

So, how should I handle this? Discuss with HR first and offer to get a doctor's note? Discuss with my manager and ask that she please notify me in the future prior to writing me up so that I have an opportunity to address the issue? Bide my time and as soon as I'm able look for another job? I didn't break the policy, so do think it's unfair to get in trouble when I didn't break the policy and no one spoke to me about it.

I'm not saying she was wrong or right, so I don't really want to get in an argument about whether I was sick too much or not. That's irrelevant. I just want to know how to handle the situation going forward.

Thanks all!
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is your manager aware that you were under the sick day limit? Is she working on a different calendar than you are (I.e., fiscal year, rather than Jan-Dec)? Did you perhaps use a lot of sick days in the same month or quarter, rather than have them spread out during the year?

I think the only thing you can do is ask her to clarify her position. I would ask this via email, and force her to give you an answer in writing. She is documenting your performance now. No reason why you shouldn't be documenting in return.

I had to do that with a manager who was angling to get me fired once. She kept giving me verbal directions that were contrary to the goals of my position, so I would follow up with emails "just to clarify, you told me today not to proceed on xyz project until further notice from you. Please let me know when to proceed." And then I would follow up each week. This was after the same manager held me back from promotion after I'd been out on medical leave for 2mos for an injury - well documented by my doctors - she cited that I was "unreliable" and she was afraid I would miss too much work to be responsible enough for the promotion. I didn't have a medical condition and I was cleared to return to work without further follow up.

I'm sorry, but when it gets to that point that someone is building a paper trail on you, unless you have a higher boss on your side or can transfer laterally I'm afraid you need to bide your time as much as possible while you look for something else.
posted by vignettist at 10:50 PM on June 16, 2015 [15 favorites]

You need to clarify the leave policy and your current usage of it with your manager. If your manager persists, take it to HR.
posted by erst at 11:06 PM on June 16, 2015

Everything in writing!

Here's an interesting twist - did you volunteer the status of your medical condition, or were you asked? Were you asked in writing?

First of all, you should have provided a doctor's note for at least the car accident (hope you're OK now!) unasked, because paper trails work both ways. Furthermore, to my point above, your employer can not ask about the nature of your medical conditions as far as I know, so go ahead and confirm this independently of your employer (so, don't ask HR to clarify, but do slyly slip this into any written exchange with your manager that they asked and you answered truthfully if that was the case. Don't let them know this was illegal if this is what they did and it is in fact illegal in your jurisdiction - get it?)

Yeah, this person is setting you up to get fired, but they're doing a poor job of it. Get better specific independent advice and start keeping your own paper trail. Get a new job when you can. Don't wait. Look at this as an opportunity and get cracking!

The reason you want to document everything is if you do get fired, you want to be able to collect unemployment without hassle. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 11:54 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are workplaces where there is a set number of sick days, but anyone who goes over the average amount (which is much less) gets a warning. Official and documented. I work in one, so I've seen it from both sides. Is it possible this is one of those?
posted by Mogur at 12:41 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

If this is the same place you asked about back in February, they're trying to get rid of you. Sooner or later, you're going to end up leaving, either by jumping or being pushed. Unfortunately, I think that any kind of rocking the boat is just going to encourage them to get rid of you sooner.

What I would do is keep my head down, my mouth shut (don't air any kind of grievance about any upset or hurt feelings you might have to anyone at work) and focus on mitigating the damage that losing my job would have on my life. I'd get my CV prepped and sent out to other companies and start looking heavily for another job. It's better to leave than be forced out, and I'd honestly be surprised to find you working for this place in another year's time.
posted by Solomon at 2:11 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think it's always best to provide medical certificates/statutory declarations* for sick days without being asked. Make sure you keep a copy. That way you're doing the best you can to cover your arse.

*I'm not sure whether it works the same way where you are, but in Australia it is possible to go to a police station and say, "I had to take the day off work yesterday because I was sick, but I couldn't get an appointment with my doctor to get a doctor's certificate. Could you please give me a stat dec?"
I wonder if it would be possible to get something like this for the leave that you had to take because of the car accident.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:24 AM on June 17, 2015

Document, document, document.

What country are you in? Maybe that should already be apparent to me from what you've said, but I thought it was worth asking given differences in sick leave and unemployment law.

What size is this company? Are you at HQ?

No matter where you are, HR is not your friend. HR is always there to protect the best interests of the company and, by extension, upper management.

The rest of this response assumes that this is the same job you posted about in February:

You mention that you cannot leave this job, or afford to get fired, for personal reasons. I won't press you on those. I will, however, posit that it may not be up to you anymore. IF your employer seems to want you gone, they have practice with this and, in all likelihood, their own legal counsel. You need a plan B. Only you know your circumstances and what the best plan B is for you.

That said, I am strongly of the opinion that you should not be cringing before this company. You should clarify expectations with them, absolutely, but don't expect any real sympathy or humanity as a result of making yourself vulnerable. Don't expect fairness; they don't care about being fair, they only care about legally covering their asses. Do not show them how upset you are about this. Stop working more than 8 hours, unless you're getting paid accordingly. Stop working through lunch breaks. You do not owe them anything they don't pay you for. I understand what it's like to take pride in your work, but from here, it looks like they're using that commendable pride in your work, plus your desire to please, to fuck you over. You don't need to get angry about this; you just need to stop letting it happen.

Final plea: you've been working more than 8 hours a day, and your commute is almost two hours each way. That's half your life, most of your waking hours, 5 days a week. Is this really how you want to be spending your life? Again, I don't know your circumstances-- but please don't let fear of a worst-case scenario trap you in a real live worse case.
posted by dee lee at 4:25 AM on June 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Do you have your company's sick leave policy in writing? If you don't I would request it, via a friendly email to HR. Just a "hey I realized I don't have the vacation/sick leave policy - is it available somewhere for reference?"

If you do, and if you're sure you are within the bounds of what they allow, I would keep getting to work on time, working as hard as you can while you're there, and then go home. Never explain, never complain.

To my admittedly untrained eye, the only relevant point you make above is this one:

- I did not exceed my allowed number of sick days.

All that other stuff is just clouding your judgement. Stop thinking about this company (hell I would say any company) as caring about you in any way. Don't get wrapped up in what you think they owe you. You go to work and work, and they pay you. That's it.
posted by lyssabee at 5:38 AM on June 17, 2015

I agree that clarifying the policy (if there is one or not) is good. But you also said it's the lowest level of write-up. Does the write-up 'expire' after a certain period of time?

My former company had a policy where you got X number of sick days and Y number of PTO days, but attendance violations were due to unexpected absences (ones not approved in advance). So if you had a doctor's appointment scheduled in advance, no worries. If you woke up puking, it would be a strike against you. The threshhold was high enough that a few unplanned absences wouldn't result in a write-up and it more truly reflected the pain points for the company (unexpectedly having to shuffle things around to cover for an employee who wasn't there).

By all means, talk to HR to get clarification. Contrary to what I typically see on the green, not all HR is out to get you.
posted by Twicketface at 5:55 AM on June 17, 2015

Thank you all.

I am in the US. Yes, same job as Feb. Yes, I took more sick days in a shorter period, but my car accident was the odd ball. She's aware of the fiscal year and the number of sick days allowed, I'm certain as we have discussed it.

Also 3 of the 4 car accident sick days I had already scheduled as vacation, so it didn't interrupt business, if that makes a difference.

I would be inclined to think she's trying to get rid of me except for these few contradictory facts:
- the level of write up is defined as non-disciplinary, so she chose to not use the next level which IS disciplinary.
- she and big boss forced me to do three write ups last month for my employees. They are write up happy.
- she and I are both fairly new, we're both trying to get big boss to give us autonomy. She told me point blank, big boss will give you autonomy once you start writing people on your team up on your own to show him you're 'managing them.' Clearly it's the same situation for her.
- she constantly tells me things like: 'I want to help you succeed,' 'I don't want you to get overwhelmed and leave in six months,' 'How can I help you manage your workload so it's less overwhelming,' etc while she gives me tips on how to fix issues or improve. Plus she says how great I am in front of big boss and other managers regularly.

I agree that the way things are handled make this clearly not the right place for me, but since I NEED to make this situation work until at least January, I'm doing the best I can.

I think I will ask HR and, if I have the balls, I'll ask her to please let me know ahead of time when I'm doing something wrong, please, specially when I'm not doing anything outside policy. I honestly didn't know I was doing anything wrong.
posted by Georgia Is All Out Of Smokes at 5:56 AM on June 17, 2015

First, get the policy in writing. Next, verify that you are in compliance. Third, write a one-paragraph statement detailing how you were, in fact, in compliance with policy. Fourth, attach a copy of the write-up and send it to HR and ask that it be placed in your file.

Last, bring a doctors note in every time you are absent in the future. Make sure you keep copies of everything in your own file.

As for writing up your teaam, you do need to make sure you are all complying with policies, including disciplinary action when needed, just because it's the right thing to do.
posted by raisingsand at 7:28 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

So it sounds to me like the real problem is big boss equates "writing people up" with "managing people," which is...dysfunctional, to say the least.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:56 AM on June 17, 2015 [16 favorites]

 She told me point blank, big boss will give you autonomy once you start writing people on your team up on your own to show him you're 'managing them.' Clearly it's the same situation for her. 

That is literally the strangest thing I have ever heard (and I am a manager with direct reports). It seems to dismiss the idea that anyone could be a good, trouble-free employee. I agree with everyone above, cover your ass and get everything in writing.
posted by kate blank at 8:58 AM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

That is literally the strangest thing I have ever heard (and I am a manager with direct reports). It seems to dismiss the idea that anyone could be a good, trouble-free employee.

This is exactly the attitude many employers take. It keeps the workforce fearful, fire-able, and eager to prove themselves (to a point).

OP, keep your head down until you can get out. Go ahead a enter a dry, boring testimony of dispute into your HR file. Then forget about it and keep looking for someplace new.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:33 PM on June 17, 2015

Regardless of any other considerations detailed in the above answers, consider this:

Did your supervisor, or any other person at your employer (including H.R.) request private medical information? Nobody associated with your employer has the right to know specific medical diagnoses or treatment plans (there are some exceptions).
posted by yesster at 4:55 PM on June 17, 2015

If you meet the eligibility and coverage criteria, consider FMLA, Family Medical Leave. You have to comb through the eligibility requirements to see if they're applicable though. You can also check if your HR has an FMLA policy, but would do so discreetly.

If you have union coverage see what the contract indicates.

Second the document, document, document. I used to always inquire, discuss these issues through the company e-mail and that was very helpful.
posted by WinstonJulia at 6:13 PM on June 17, 2015

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